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How to keep well at Christmas: December is a marathon, stay on course

Parties, reunions, school plays – it’s four-weeks at sprint pace fuelled by alcohol and chocolate

December is a marathon. Parties, reunions, school plays – it’s four-weeks at sprint pace fuelled by alcohol and chocolate. If you don’t want to get to Christmas day in a heap, there’s still time to adjust your course.

‘Tis the season

The flu season starts in October and runs until the end of April, says the HSE. National levels of hugging and kissing peak in December, so make sure it’s only love you’re spreading. “We see lots of coughs and colds this time of year because people are in close contact with each other,” says Cork City GP and medical director of the Irish College of General Practitioners, Dr Diarmuid Quinlan. “We encourage everyone who should be vaccinated to get vaccinated – that’s the flu vaccine, the Covid-19 vaccine and then for those aged 65 and older, there’s the pneumonia vaccine”.

If you don’t want a red nose or worse on Christmas morning, act now. Remember, those aged 50-64 get a second Covid booster free. Think of others too. “Many of us think, I’m fine, I’m in good health, but we need to consider others. If you are visiting grandparents, ask yourself, is it safe, am I vaccinated, could inadvertently give them something” says Dr Quinlan. Oh, and wash your hands.

Mistletoe and whine

Lots of us love a Christmas tipple, but drinking night after night however will take its toll. Sure, the temporary buzz of a drink or two is nice, but any more and you could be on the fast train to “fear” town. Anxiety, sadness, short temper, disrupted sleep? With 1000-piece jigsaws, charades with the rellies and a large bird in play, you’ll need your wits about you.


“The alcohol guideline for men and women has come down to 14 units a week – a unit is a small glass of wine, a half a pint of beer or a single measure of a spirit,” says Dr Quinlan. A bottle of wine has about seven standard drinks. “Alcohol removes your inhibitions and people can get into fights that otherwise wouldn’t happen,” says Dr Quinlan. Help yourself by making your drink a small one, try lower alcohol alternatives, alternate alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks and tell alcohol-pushing hosts a polite “no”.

Walking in the air

Baby it’s cold outside, but a walk will do you the world of good. Being cooped up, sedentary and starved of daylight for days on the trot is enough to drive anyone mad. Take a break from Christmas with even a walk around the block. “Exercise is good for us both physically and mentally. Get out in the fresh air, especially in daylight hours,” says Dr Quinlan.

Most wonderful time of the year?

The warm home, overflowing table, immaculate children and seamless family relationships – images of Christmas are hard to live up to. “We are bombarded with images of the perfect Christmas and happy families and the reality can be far removed,” says Dr Quinlan. “For people with young children, Christmas can be very enjoyable, but also very stressful. People have real financial pressures too. Maybe there are marital problems and close proximity for days on end doesn’t help,” he says. “If this is the case, be kind to yourself. Try to get some exercise and talk to a friend.”

Joanne Hunt

Joanne Hunt

Joanne Hunt, a contributor to The Irish Times, writes about homes and property, lifestyle, and personal finance