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Take the Holiday Challenge! Start by Stopping Stress.

The Health section's annual Holiday Challenge is now underway, and the question is: Can you enjoy the holiday season without gaining any weight?

Today's "Eat, Drink and Be Healthy" column offers strategies for doing just that -- not trying to lose weight, but simply holding the line on holiday weight gain. Hint: It involves lots of planning.

Maintaining healthy weight involves more than watching what you put in your mouth. It also, as many experts point out, means taking care of your overall health and well-being, particularly when it comes to managing stress.

But many of us have trouble keeping stress in check, as a survey released today by the National Women's Health Resource Center (NWHRC) suggests. Conducted by Harris Interactive, the survey examined women's attitudes and actions regarding their own health care, particularly in light of today's stressful economic times. Among the key findings: Many women -- 45 percent of the 754 women ages 18 and up who were surveyed -- failed to seek medical care in the past year because it cost too much.

The survey also found that more than 40 percent of the women said their health had declined over the past five years. The most common reasons they gave for that decline were stress and weight gain. Elizabeth Battaglino Cahill, executive director of NWHRC, points out that managing stress might help women maintain a healthy weight. That, in turn, could further help reduce stress. NWHRC's Web site offers ideas for managing stress that don't cost a penny. Mindful breathing, for instance, pays off two ways: You'll feel more relaxed just for the breathing, and you'll feel better for not having spent money getting to that point.

The most fascinating part of the survey, though, was when women were asked which of their own behaviors they'd be willing to modify in return for reduced medical costs. Here are the stats, as presented by the NWRHC:

Women were most likely to be willing to maintain a healthy diet (92% of those for whom this is applicable), and least willing to quit smoking (58% among those for whom this change is applicable).
While the majority of women who are willing to engage in regular exercise (57%), lose weight or maintain a healthy weight (53%), or maintain a healthy diet (52%) would do so for a health care savings of $50 or less per month, just 37% would be willing to quit smoking for that amount.
In fact, nearly half of women who say they would be willing to quit smoking (48%) would need to save more than $75 each month.

How about you? What health-related behavior would you be willing to modify if it meant lower health bills for you? It's not an abstract question: Because so many health problems, from cancer to diabetes, have ties to overweight and obesity, maintaining a healthy weight could in fact translate to spending less on your health care.

If that's not incentive enough to join the Holiday Challenge, I don't know what is.

TAKE TODAY'S HOLIDAY CHALLENGE QUIZ:

We'll give you the correct answer next week!

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  |  December 2, 2008; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Nutrition and Fitness  
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