December blog: Is Christmas good for you? well there’s always the New Year!

Is Christmas good for you? Well, there’s always the New Year!

Working in a busy pharmacy at Christmas certainly has its challenges. The increased activity may be good for business, but can be exhausting and I’m always ready to rest on Christmas Day.

My absolute favourite is the last-minute rush to buy a bottle of perfume minutes before closing time on Christmas Eve. Generally, by men who have suddenly realised they might be in serious trouble if they don’t have a present to give their loved one and often accompanied by: “You couldn’t wrap it for me, could you?”

There’s the huge increase in items that all need to be dispensed in ‘double quick’ time! This is on top of the rise in footfall at the counter as people stock up on those ‘just in case’ remedies to get them through the festivities. I know we’re only closed for a couple of days at most, but it seems these items are mysteriously required almost a month in advance of when they would normally be due!

We all have our own unique Christmas traditions, often started when we were children or when we had children of our own. I’ve been considering what the ‘average’ Christmas entails in terms of consumption and realised that our new Health Champions will have their work cut out come the New Year as they encourage people to make changes to their lifestyle. There’ll be a ‘window of opportunity’ with New Year’s Resolutions, so perhaps we should be planning for this now and getting materials in to support activities in our “Health Promotion Zones” (HPZ). The top three interventions to consider are weight loss, alcohol consumption and smoking cessation.

Weight Loss – Christmas only comes once a year, so why shouldn’t you have turkey with all the trimmings, Christmas pudding, mince pies, cream, cheese, trifle, pork pie, chocolates, nuts, a glass of something (or two…)? Well perhaps we ought to think about the calories at least for a moment before ‘the big day’. A typical Christmas dinner will probably be around 1,000 calories and, during the day, you could get through almost 6,000 calories.

Impressive! It’s a good job we don’t eat like this everyday. To maintain body weight a woman needs 2,000 calories and a man 2,500 calories per day. However, most adults would probably like a little less weight to carry around, so to lose one pound of weight per week we need to reduce these figures by 500 calories a day (e.g. don’t have Christmas pudding with custard and brandy butter = 587 calories).

For the HPZ there’s no shortage of ideas on how to lose weight and signposting people to these resources could make a huge difference to them. How about: the NHS Choices Weight Loss 12-week programme, which combines advice on healthier eating and physical activity. There’s a week-by-week information pack that can be downloaded and a stick-it-on the-fridge planner to keep track of progress.

Alcohol Consumption – this peaks at Christmas and I found an interesting 2006 article from the Independent Newspaper. They stated that: “More alcohol than ever before will be consumed this festive season, prompting warnings from medical experts of a “health crisis”, particularly among young women.

“Over the 12 days of Christmas, the average Briton will get through 18 pints of beer, three bottles of wine, one bottle of spirits and four glasses of fortified wine – the equivalent of 137 units of alcohol in less than two weeks. This puts drinkers at real risk of liver disease and other alcohol-related conditions.”

For the HPZ – a reminder of the current alcohol drinking guidelines, which were updated in 2016, for the first time in over 20 years. The new guidance has the same message for men and women: to keep health risks to a minimum you are safest not to regularly drink more than 14 units per week. Also, drinking should be spread evenly over 3 or 4 days and not done in a day or two’s binge.

Smoking Cessation – this is the single most important intervention to make as half of all long-term smokers will die early from smoking-related diseases such as heart disease, lung cancer and chronic bronchitis. For example, men who quit smoking by the age of 30 add 10 years to their life and stopping at 60 adds 3 years. It’s never too late to make a change that will vastly improve your health and wellbeing and this is without even considering the huge financial savings that accrue from not smoking.

For the HPZ – why not consider a display of Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT) products and signpost to the NHS Smoke free website?

Studies have shown that you’re four times more likely to quit with help. Additional support is available from local stop smoking services and you should have contact information available for those people who require additional support.

Derby City has its Livewell Stop Smoking Support Service and county-wide there is the new Live Life Better Derbyshire Stop Smoking Service. Unfortunately, neither service makes use of the community pharmacy network and accessing the support may not be straightforward or all that convenient. Livewell has been around for some time, but Live Life Better Derbyshire only took over smoking cessation services on 1st December.

However, your Health Promotion Zone is an opportunity for you to engage with your customers and make a difference to their wellbeing and health outcomes. Why not make a commitment to “Addressing Local Health Needs” as your New Year’s Resolution? It’s simple, worthwhile and will definitely keep you busy all year around.

I would like to take this opportunity to wish you all a very Happy New Year!