Archived Story

Dan Buettner’s tips for healthy holidays

Published 12:00pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

Editor’s note: Read this and similar content in the Winter 2012 issue of Southern Minnesota, available at locations throughout Albert Lea and the Tribune office.

With the holiday season upon us, it may be easy to get caught up in the frenzy of shopping, parties and treats. In what can be one of the most stressful times of the year, how do you make your health a priority?

New York Times best-selling author Dan Buettner has researched the Blue Zones, or the areas of the world where people live the longest. He led Albert Leans on the AARP/Blue Zones Vitality Project in 2009, which encouraged residents to make simple changes to help them live longer, healthier lives. As the busiest time of year approaches, Buettner is here with a few tips on keeping the holidays a healthy, happy time.


• Stay involved with friends

In place of buying expensive gifts and rich foods, make friends the center of the holiday season, Buettner said.

Instead of buying gifts for all friends, have a gift exchange or small get-together. Watch a holiday movie, go ice skating or have a potluck (and exchange recipes).

Buettner said in Okinawa there are moais, or groups of lifelong friends who support each other through good and bad times. Social interaction with friends can act as a stress buffer.


• Don’t eat or drink to excess

According to Buettner, the average person gains five pounds during the holiday season.

Dan Buettner

He said overindulging may be tempting and some people may even replace a regular diet with holiday sweets. In which case, try not eating or drinking in excess to help prevent mood swings, weight gain and guilt.

“Instead of substituting sweets for dinner, eat an occasional Christmas cookie,” Buettner said.

He said people in the Blue Zones eat sweets occasionally, and treating yourself a little is fine.

If you have a sweet tooth, try using an alternative to sugar such as honey. People who drink alcohol should choose red wine and only have one or two glasses per day.


• Stick to a budget

Rather than spending money on expensive gifts, take time to make memories with loved ones.

Buettner said the holidays shouldn’t be about who gets the most expensive gift. Take a day or two to spend with family members or ask to help them run an errand or cook a meal. Include kids on the fun and planning. They can help make decorations and pick healthy, colorful fruits and veggies at the store for holiday platters.

According to Buettner, people are happier spending money to make memories with family rather than spending money on material items.


• Go easy on yourself

Don’t feel obligated to say yes to every party or dinner invitation, Buettner said. Friends and family will understand there’s only so much that can be fit into a schedule.

“If you find stress beginning to overwhelm you, stop and take a break,” he said.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, even 15 to 30 minutes of extra sleep each day will boost alertness and help recharge. He said studies show taking short naps midday can even reduce risks of a heart attack.

Meditation can also rejuvenate the body.


— Buettner’s research is incorporated into two books: “The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer from the People Who’ve Lived the Longest” and “Thrive: Finding Happiness the Blue Zones Way.”