Our bodies may be incredibly efficient machines of kickassery, but with the hell we put them through each year from November 26th to December 31st, it’s a miracle any of us are still standing by the time New Year’s Day rolls around. The five-week holiday grind – the open-bar office fetes, the abundantly available frosted sugar cookies, the buckets of egg nog, the forced familial interactions, the Christmas ham (and the Hanukkah latkes) – makes it virtually impossible to be a healthy, contributing member of society, so with another naughty holiday season officially buttoned-up, it’s time to be nice to yourself with some much-needed rest, relaxation and mental and physical detoxification. After all, your post-holiday bank account isn’t going to support an entirely new wardrobe to accommodate your post-holiday gut, and we’re willing to bet your post-holiday game is going to be nonexistent if you don’t get your ass in gear soon.
Break a sweat
After a month or two of eating whatever you want and sleeping through your a.m. workouts, it’s time to get back into fighting shape with some serious sweat sessions. Not only will it help you shed whatever pounds you may have accidentally acquired through extensive holiday merriment, but it’ll also help you clear out the holiday brain fog and re-focus your energy on work and/or taking over the world. If you really slacked off at the end of 2009, start slowly to build back up to your former glory; aim for 30-45 minutes of serious cardio three to four times a week, but make sure you choose a reasonable schedule that you can commit to for at least a month (self-help theory suggests that it takes approximately 21 days to create a new habit, so commit yourself to one month of consistent workouts to really seal the deal).
Cut out caffeine, sugar and saturated fat
Your body is naturally capable of detoxifying itself (that’s what the liver, kidneys, lymph and endocrine systems are for), but it wasn’t built to withstand the sheer volume of garbage that goes along with modern-day life (pesticides on fruit and veggies, antibiotics and hormones in meat, metals in the water, chemicals absolutely everywhere), so sometimes you need to help it along a little. By removing caffeine, sugar and (bad) fat from your diet for a short period of time, you can give your body the chance to focus on the toxic stuff that’s been building up during the past month, year or decade. While you might need to gradually wean yourself off your three-cup-a-day coffee habit – going cold-turkey will give you a nasty headache and undermine your efforts to stick to your detox plan –after a few weeks of abstention, you’ll notice increased energy and, if you’re a die-hard ‘bucks-a-holic, a little extra spending money. Sugar, which you’ve surely had enough of since winter hit, is another culprit, so take some time off from your sweet friend to ensure that your body can find equilibrium again.
and while you’re at it…
Become a (temporary) teetotaler
We’d never suggest that you give up alcohol altogether, but taking a month off from the stuff, especially after indulging at party after party during the holiday season, can do wonders for your mental and physical health. You’ll sleep better, look better and feel better, and you might even lose a few pounds in the process; holiday bevvies can pack up to 400 calories a cup, and since it’s probably safe to assume you weren’t consuming just one drink a night, there might be some pleasant scale surprises in your future should you choose to take a break from empty alcoholic calories for a while.
Get your beauty sleep
If you got caught up in the constant activity of the holiday season, then you probably deprived your body of sleep, one of the most vital life processes. Sleep deprivation (brought on by attending multiple mid-week parties, rushing to finish projects before the end of the calendar year and feverishly shopping for gifts at odd hours of the day) is just as detrimental to your health as abusing narcotics or becoming obese. In fact, it might be worse; according to Matthew Walker, director of the Sleep and Neuroimaging Lab at the University of California, Berkeley, a series of 1980’s sleep studies showed that mice who’d been awake for five days straight had had been kept awake began to die after five days without sleep. Studies have also shown that sleep deprivation results in a decrease in immune system function, a decrease in the release of the human growth hormone, and an increasingly irregular heartbeat.
Detoxing is as much mental as it is physical, so now that things have calmed down (and the family has vacated the premises), make it a priority to get eight to nine hours of sleep most nights of the week. Your reduced caffeine, sugar and alcohol intake will help a lot, but you also have to commit to shutting down the computer or getting out of the office at least an hour before you plan to get your winks to give your brain time to relax and get in the sleeping mood.
Make time for you
Besides rampant commercialism, the holidays are all about giving, which is a wonderful sentiment that can prove exhausting when all is said and done. When you’ve spent six weeks running yourself ragged with work, family, friends and other stressors, you need to give yourself time to find your inner balance again. If that means scheduling a few extra guys’ nights, scoring some much-needed veg time in front of the TV, spoiling yourself with a massage, or taking up a meditation or relaxation practice, now’s the time to make yourself a priority. If you can’t be number one on your own list, then at least try for spots two through four; even a day spent focusing only your own needs can make a world of difference as you launch into the whirlwind of another year.