Five Things To Do For Your Health This Month: December

December is loaded with health significance – it’s the end of the calendar year, which is a time of reflection for many of us. It’s also a month packed with holidays, emotion, stress, and, often, calories. Here are five tips to help you navigate the rapids of December and emerge in the New Year stronger and healthier.

  1. 1) December 1 is World AIDS Day. For many of us in the States, the day seems to flicker past, since lots

    The Red ribbon is a symbol for solidarity with...

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    of us (or is it just me?) are still wallowing in an overstuffed fog that lingers from Thanksgiving (December? Is it December already?). Use World AIDS Day as a reminder, even if December 1 sped past you, to assess your sexual health this past year. Are you being safe? Can you identify the triggers for when you’re not? We can all use this date as a reminder to look ahead to the end of the month to plan a sexually safe New Year’s Eve. Are you getting appropriate routine screening for all kinds of sexually transmitted diseases – many of which can increase the risk of AIDS transmission? How long has it been since you were tested for HIV? Consider calling in December for an appointment and getting yourself “checked under the hood.” Don’t have a doctor or insurance? Free or low-cost clinics are available in most communities, and many are less busy during this month – but they’re often packed in January. Now’s a great time to take care of yourself. Recent TV reports have highlighted the risky sexual behavior of many teens. Probably this data doesn’t apply to your kid, but it’s still a great opportunity for you. How? Wait until your teen is trapped in the car with you, then use the Tyra Banks survey/show as a starting point, and take the time this month to have The Talk. Again. Can’t face having the discussion with your kid? Consider a swap – you’ll drag your friend’s kid, and talk to him/her, while your friend has The Talk with yours. AIDS prevention is too important to let awkwardness leave your teens uninformed about values and protection. World AIDS Day also reminds us to look beyond our own borders to the face of AIDS everywhere, and consider helping others. Check out this lovely BBC story about a real-life Mary and Joseph and their newborn in Africa.

  2. 2) December 3 is National Roof Over Your Head Day. With financial stress affecting almost all segments of society, all of us are feeling the pinch. It’s important to remember the personal benefits you gain from giving to others (check out the Doc Gurley Medeo on Altruism At Work for a quick refresher!) and those who serve the neediest are feeling the pinch of the financial crisis too. Consider giving to a food bank or soup kitchen. You can drop off a pack of clean socks at a shelter. If you’re looking for a more specific way to gift the homeless (who are often the only people left giftless this holiday season) stay tuned for a future Doc Gurley post – our Annual Homeless Gift Guide, for tips on safe, effective gifting to the neediest among us.

  3. 3) December is also (cough) National Stress-Free Family Holiday Month. Gee (scratch head) I wonder why? Don’t let the month slip away from you without making a plan to reduce your stress levels. Perhaps you should plan a few deliberately unscheduled days, or days where only a walk/hike is planned. Use the fact that December is national Read A New Book month and Write To A Friend month, as well as having National Card-Playing Day (December 28) as excuses to unplug, unwind, and reconnect. Or are your major stressors financial? If so, consider avoiding the mall altogether, and do your shopping either on-line (with budget firmly in hand) or maybe even take the plunge and give gifts of your time and making. Are your holiday stressors relationship-based? If so, try to identify a friend who can help you problem-solve. Should you consider a time-limit on spending the day with difficult relatives? Or are you feeling isolated this holiday season? If so, keep in mind that December is also Hi Neighbor month – consider doing an act of kindness for your neighbor as a way of connecting. Whatever your stressors, December is a good month to be proactive – sitting and assessing the situation, and making a plan, can reduce a significant amount of stress for many of us.

  4. 4) December 21, the Winter Solstice, is the longest night of the year. What better way to celebrate the benefits of sleep? Lack of sleep has been shown to increase risks for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes. It’s also been shown to increase abdominal girth (what nicer way to start getting rid of a Santa-belly than to sleep it off?). If those aren’t enough reasons to make sleep a priority, recent research has also shown a lack of sleep to increase women’s risk of cancer. More sleep has also been shown to improve grades and decrease behavioral problems in kids. Use this date to assess your family’s sleep patterns, and make a plan to improve them. Try to identify the reasons why bedtime gets delayed, both for you and your family. Wow. I feel a yawn coming on just thinking about it…

  5. 5) ‘Tis the season of joy, and there are many opportunities to nurture your joy habit this month. Besides that whole gift-giving thing, there’s Wear Brown Shoes Day (December 4), Chocolate Covered Anything Day (December 16), National Underdog Day (yeah! December 17), Wear A Plunger On Your Head Day (December 18), and, my favorite, National Look At The Bright Side Day (December 21, when every subsequent day is brighter until June 21!). Of course, we will ignore National Whiner’s Day (December 26) and say Humbug to humbugging on National Humbug Day (December 21).

WANTED: Are you a chocolate-covered underdog wearing brown shoes and a plunger on your head? If so, feel free to comment below – you’re my kind of person!

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