The Christmas season can be a time of great joy for many. However for others this time can bring about a laundry-list of health problems both physical and mental.

The winter weather, copious amounts of food, and the added pressure of holiday preparations can have an adverse effect on adults and children every year.

Senlin Chen, Ph.D, Kinesiology Professor at Louisiana State University (LSU), warns that a sedentary lifestyle is both dangerous and easy to fall into during the holiday season. “Sedentary behavior is a known risk factor of health.

Typically, sedentary behavior is considered the opposite of exercise or regular physical activity behavior,” Chen said. “This is true if defined by level of physical exertion or intensity. For example, jogging is about 6 times more physically demanding or exerting than sitting at an office desk.”

Chen added that there is ample research data that has documented the negative health consequences for a sedentary lifestyle and recommends maintaining regular physical activity during the holiday season. “Long holidays during the winter break pose a challenge for everyone to be active and eat healthy, adults and children alike,” Chen said.

“In this context, being physically active means 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity every day for children and adolescents, or 150 minutes of exercise for adults.”

Chen’s work has led him to the conclusion that children who lead inactive or sedentary lifestyles are at risk of becoming obese and having lower cardiorespiratory fitness.

He has focused his research on educating children in school to be more active.

Chen advises to lead by example when it comes to keeping children physically active during winter breaks. “To avoid weight gain during the winter break, parents need to encourage their children to be physically active and eat in moderation.”

Some of the examples Chen mentioned were walking, jogging, or biking at a park, shooting basketballs, or playing tennis, to name a few. “Having an adult as the role model or even a supervisor will enable the children to move around instead of watching TV or playing video games all day.”

Another aspect of the holiday season, and the winter months in general, is possible seasonal depression.

The stress of holiday planning combined with the winter weather can cause depression during this time of year. “Numerous research studies have found that regular exercise is a viable treatment as well as preventive method for stress buffering, anxiety reduction, and depression management,” Chen said. “In some instances, exercise, particularly aerobic exercise, may work more effectively than medication to prevent and reduce depression. Regular exercising should be built into people’s daily schedule, including the holiday season.”