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After Carving the Turkey, Remember to Carve out Time for Your Health

Veggie turkeyWhether you indulged on Turkey Day, are watching your calories, or trying to avoid an annual weight gain during the holidays, Thanksgiving can be an important time to stay in control of your health. And the day after Thanksgiving can be a great opportunity to reinvest your energy and set the stage for a happy - and healthy - holiday season.

In early November, I went to an eye-opening  town hall meeting, led by Penn's Institute for Diabetes, Obesity and Metabolism (IDOM) and Rodebaugh Diabetes Center, where obesity and diabetes experts candidly answered questions about weight, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome. The team provided useful insight into the reasons behind our individual and societal challenges with weight.

I knew that people with three of five components of metabolic syndrome are at greater risk for diabetes and heart disease, but I hadn't heard that of the five components of metabolic syndrome risk factors (obesity, high triglycerides, low HDL cholesterol, high blood pressure/hypertension, and elevated blood sugar), some factors may be particularly linked to ethnicity. Rex Ahima, MD, PhD, professor of Medicine and director of the Obesity Unit in IDOM explained that, for instance, people of Asian descent commonly have high triglycerides, and people of West African descent battle increased hypertension risk, putting them at greater risk for heart disease and diabetes on top of any other variable risk factors (smoking, weight, age).

So, to counteract some of the holiday weight gain, or help us lose that pound we never shed after last year's festivities, here are some helpful concepts the team shared:

Forget short cuts, take "long cuts": Holiday parties and hosting duties can steal the time we'd normally try to use for exercise, so take "long cuts" throughout the day. Walk the long way to your meeting.

Rethink your definition of exercise: It's easy to get hung up on the idea that fitness or exercise require you to go to the gym, be on a sports team, sign up for a 5k or even run a marathon. But, exercise can be whatever you want it to be - a long walk after dinner, breaking a sweat while cleaning, or even lifting dumbbells during commercial breaks (via Violet Sage's "lazy girl fitness").

One small step...: Starting anything new is hard. So, as panelist Kenric Murayama, MD, FACS, chief of Surgery at Penn Presbyterian Medical Center, tells his patients: go to your front door, walk away from your home for five minutes, turn around and walk back. Next week, walk ten minutes away and ten minutes back. Keep upping the time you are walking away and back…pretty soon you'll have figured out a system that works for you, and has you feeling more active.

Managing weight is such a difficult challenge, but is so important to your long term health and happiness. This Thanksgiving, make it your goal to concentrate on your overall heath and guard your waistlines as best you can. It won't be easy - but your health is worth it.

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