Jelly belly not necessarily merry

Santa could use a few nutrition tips to live a healthier lifestyle

Posted: Sunday, December 23, 2007

"His eyes how they twinkled! His dimples how merry!

"His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!

"His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,

"And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;

"The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,

"And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath;

"He had a broad face and a little round belly,

"That shook, when he laughed like a bowlful of jelly.

"He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf ...."

When Clement Clark Moore wrote "A Visit from Saint Nicholas" as a gift for his children in 1822, his description of Santa Claus became the traditional view of the gift-giving saint that hasn't changed much at least in the United States.

In November, a British newspaper reported that officials at an English shopping center organized a boot camp to get Santa in shape to set a good example for the millions of Britons who are overweight or obese.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 66 percent of Americans are overweight or obese - and Santa's one of them.

So, besides laying off the cookies, what would St. Nick have to do to get slimmer and healthier this year? Here are five suggestions from health experts.

Rosy cheeks

Drinking cold apple cider instead of eggnog this Christmas could help St. Nick reduce the redness in his face.

Rosacea, a rash that causes red areas on the face and sometimes a red bulbous nose, isn't caused by drinking, but alcohol can make it worse, according to the Mayo Clinic.

If Santa has been diagnosed with rosacea, he should take precautions such as wearing a scarf or ski mask when driving his sleigh through the snowy winter air and avoiding hot foods and beverages.

Extreme temperatures also can exacerbate rosecea, but when he's traveling around the world in one night, Santa can't help going from one climate to another.

Saint's heart

Maybe Santa should ask Mrs. Claus for a treadmill this Christmas.

The American Heart Association recommends 30 minutes or more of exercise most days of the week. Walking or jogging increases heart rate, burns calories and strengthens the heart.

To change things up, Santa might give Rudolph, Blitzen and the other reindeer a break by pulling his own sleigh three times a week.

It is important for Santa to change up his cardio routine, said Aaron Walden, a Texas Tech graduate with a degree in exercise-sports science.

Santa's progress hits a plateau after about three weeks if he doesn't switch up his workout program, Walden said.

Bowl full of jelly

Centuries of eating cookies and other sweets dipped in milk has given Santa a big, round belly.

Jessica Englehart, a certified personal trainer, said to lose belly fat, Santa would have to watch his diet, do at least 20 minutes of cardiovascular training each day and stick to a regular weight training routine.

Diet is the most important component of fitness, Englehart said. A high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet is the key to dropping weight.

Englehart suggested Santa work on increasing his metabolism by taking a multivitamin, eating small meals every two to three hours and taking a protein shake with him in the sleigh when running errands.

Pipe smoking

Tobacco use, particularly smoking, remains the No. 1 cause of preventable disease and death in the United States, according to the CDC.

Quitting smoking reduces the risk of lung and other types of cancer, heart disease stroke and premature death.

Quitting also reduces coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath, according to the CDC.

But quitting is tough, so Santa might need help. Luckily there are several smoking-cessation products on the market.

The FDA last summer approved Chantix, a tablet made and distributed by Pfizer. Anti-depression medications Zyban and Wellbutrin also have shown in clinical trials to reduce the urge to smoke.

Back and arm muscles

Weight training would help Santa strengthen his arm and lower back muscles.

The more muscle Santa builds, the more toys he'll be able to lug in his bag.

Walden and Englehart suggested Santa start slow and hire a personal trainer to provide motivation and encouragement. The trainer also could teach Santa proper form so he is less likely to injure himself while lifting.

A high number of repetitions with light weights would help Santa begin to burn calories, Walden said. Heavier weight and a low number of repetitions increases strength.

Englehart said Santa should lift slowly and steadily, get a burn in his muscles and feel fatigued after each set.

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