By Seth Daniel
The holidays present a unique month-long time of the year when people often can find themselves in a much different pattern than during the rest of the year. Such changes can often lead to unhealthy behaviors or illnesses – and triggers for those struggling with overeating disorders or substance use disorders.
Going into the holidays with a plan and a watchful eye – from the dinner table to the kids’ toys – is a necessity.
To learn how to stay healthy during this unique time of year, why not ask the best?
Dr. David Roll, a primary care physician for all ages and the medical director at the CHA Revere and CHA Everett Primary Care practices, was recently named on of the region’s Top Doctors in the Boston Magazine December issue. The annual list looks at top doctors in every specialty and in primary care as well.
Roll said he is fortunate to have a good team around him, and that is crucial in medical care delivery.
“I’m very fortunate to have a great team in Cambridge Health Alliance and at our clinics in Everett and Revere, with a great range of physicians, physician assistants, nurses and other staff to help improve the health of our communities,” he said. “Medicine today is a team sport and there are no top doctors without top teams.”
From the area’s Top Doctor, here are some things to watch for on the holidays as it relates to one’s health.
Q: Many people find it hard to stay healthy over the holidays. There are numerous flus, colds and other maladies that are brought into parties and celebrations. What are the best precautions to take over the holidays?
A: I make sure everyone in my family gets a flu shot and I advise all my patients to do the same. It’s not possible to get the flu from the shots we use today. If you won’t do it for yourself, do it for the kids and grandparents in your family, who could end up in the hospital if they get the flu from you. Also, cover your cough and wash your hands frequently – simple but important.
Q: Food and the holidays are literally tied at the hip. For a lot of people, keeping to a diet or keeping a healthy eating pattern is difficult. What do you recommend?
A: It’s all about balance. If you’re snacking more during the day, take a small plate for dinner. If you’re planning for a big holiday meal, eat light and drink lots of water throughout the day. If you want to try everything, take a bite or two of each dish.
Q: Everyone always talks about post-holiday depression. Is that really a thing? If so, how can people prepare for it and do they need to?
A: I think it’s real. Sometimes people feel there’s nothing to look forward to after a long-awaited vacation and time with family. One solution is to schedule an event or a long weekend two or three weeks after the holiday – something else to look forward to. As the new year approaches, you might also want to think about scheduling your annual physical for 2018, to talk with your care team or schedule any health screenings that are overdue.
Q: Is it an old wives tale that one can get sick by going out in the cold without a hat and coat, or is there some medical soundness to that old claim?
A: It’s mostly myth. Cold temperatures and dry air make a slightly more hospitable environment for some viruses in your nose and throat. But colds are caused by viruses and the main reason people get more colds in the winter is spending more time indoors with other people.
Q: What are some of the common holiday-associated problems that patients have presented to you and your staff over the years?
A: This time of year we see a lot of people worried about a persistent cough. Most people aren’t aware that the average duration of a cough is about 18 days. Usually it can be controlled with home remedies or over-the-counter medications, and it rarely requires antibiotics. At the CHA Revere Care Center, we offer sick visits Monday-Friday and Saturdays until 1 p.m., to help people who need to been seen for an illness.
Q: Are there signs that parents should watch for in their children both before, during and after the holidays?
A: Aside from the usual respiratory and stomach viruses, this is the time of year when food, fuel, and housing insecurity have their sharpest sting, and disproportionately affect our most vulnerable patients, especially the young and the old. For those who can, it’s a great time to think about donating to local food pantries and supporting the services that are most needed in the winter.
Q: Substance abuse can invade the holidays for some people. How do you address that with patients who struggle with substance use disorders?
A: If you’re in recovery, make a party plan in advance for those high-risk or high-stress occasions: Go late, leave early, and take a sober friend along. If you are struggling, don’t be afraid to ask for help. The assistance you need may be as close as a friend, a coworker, your doctor’s office at Cambridge Health Alliance, or one of our partners in the community.
Q: There are a lot of toys and gifts that can be harmful or dangerous to children. Should parents think about toy safety over the holidays, or is that overdoing it?
A: Well-meaning family and friends often give gifts that are not appropriate to a child’s age. Age limits are on toys for a reason, mostly to prevent younger children from choking on small parts. In the end, there is no substitute for parental supervision, especially with small children and small toys. Also, if you gift a bike or skateboard, buy the protective gear to go with it.
Q: What is your favorite holiday treat?
A: I love date bars, just like my mother used to make. It’s one of those rich treats you have to balance with good eating, especially if you can’t resist a second trip to the dessert tray.