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Media Contacts

Bernardo Carducci
Department of Psychology, IU Southeast

Joellan Muyskens
Division of Recreational Sports

Bryan Stednitz
Division of Recreational Sports

Robert Billingham
Department of Applied Health Science

Living Well

Holiday wellness tips from Indiana University

EDITORS: This monthly tip sheet is based on Indiana University faculty research, teaching and service. "Living Well Through Healthy Lifestyles" is the guiding philosophy of IU Bloomington's School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation. In keeping with that philosophy, this tip sheet offers information related to both physical and mental well-being. Faculty in other IU schools and departments also contribute their expertise in this area.

Living Well holiday tips include a healthy gift guide, tips on making small talk, how to squeeze in workouts, and minimizing the bitterness of divorce for children.

Healthy gift guide
Making small talk at parties
Staying active during the holidays
Scrooge divorce

Photo by: Chris Meyer, IU Home Pages

Items from the Living Well holiday gift guide.

Healthy gift guide. To help you find the perfect present for the health and fitness enthusiast in your life, we asked 10 wellness experts for their wish list of healthy holiday gifts. Here's what's dancing in their heads:

Under $50: Stability ball. "A stability ball is a really versatile gift because you can use it in a workout or to improve your posture when you are sitting at a desk or watching television."
Sky's the limit: Global Positioning System wrist watch. "The GPS wrist watch is perfect for outdoor runs, especially when you are not familiar with an area. You can wander wherever you like and it will track your mileage."
-- Joellan Muyskens, Assistant Director for Group Exercise, IU Division of Recreational Sports

Under $50: Stainless steel cookware. "Healthy eating is easier with the right tools in your kitchen. I love stainless steel cookware for making fresh, wholesome meals."
Sky's the limit: Knife set. "A really good knife set, like Cutco, makes food preparation a breeze."
-- Stacey Matavuli, dietician and outreach educator for Indiana University Health and Wellness

Under $50: Talking indoor-outdoor thermometer, available at the Braille Bookstore. This can be useful to people with and without disabilities.
Sky's the limit: Trash can that opens automatically, such as the Magic Trash Can sold by Independent Living Aides Inc. This would be a handy gift for someone without good dexterity and for those with their hands full and/or too much on their mind.
-- Gary Robb, Director, National Center on Accessibility at Indiana University Bloomington

Under $50: Colorado's Fourteeners: From Hikes to Climbs, by Gerry Roach. It's certain to inspire.
Sky's the limit: Hydration backpack. It will come in handy when climbing the peaks described in the previous gift.
-- David Gallahue, Dean, IU School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation

Under $50: Mind-workout games like Scrabble, bridge and crossword puzzles. "Card games and word games are great for keeping the brain active. Anything that keeps the mind stimulated and learning new things helps build new connections in the brain and can delay the symptoms of Alzheimer's."
Sky's the limit: Fitness assessment and consultation. "Exercise is important for people of all ages. A professional consultation can get your loved one on track to be more active."
-- Lesa Lorenzen-Huber, Interim Director, IU Center on Aging and Aged

Under $50: MP3 player. "We would use an MP3 player to hold music for both of us and supply motivation and entertainment during a workout."
Sky's the limit: Treadmill. "We have small children, so it would be great to be able to go for a run without leaving home."
-- Tatiana Kolovou, senior group exercise leader, IU Division of Recreational Sports, and Jack Raglin, professor of kinesiology, IU School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation

Under $50: Bike lights. "Biking to work is a great way to build physical activity into your day, but you need a proper lighting system when you ride home after dark."
Sky's the limit: GPS cycle computer and heart rate monitor. "A cycle computer can give you speed, distance, cadence and power output. With a built-in heart rate monitor, you can also track your effort, monitor intensity, prevent overtraining and see progress as you grow stronger."
-- Bryan Stednitz, Assistant Director for Strength and Conditioning, IU Division of Recreational Sports

Under $50: Take a friend to a movie. Both gifts are about connections and relationships rather than money.
Sky's the limit: Spend time at a quiet retreat with people that you love. "The gift of caring and love can never go wrong."
-- Anne Reese, Director, Health and Wellness Education, IU Health Center

Under $50: Book of in-state or regional hiking trails, such as Hiking Indiana (America's Best Day Hiking Series). "Hiking is a good time."
Sky's the limit: Child carrier backpack. Children will more likely appreciate and enjoy nature as adults if they're exposed to it often and early.
-- Doug Knapp, associate professor in the Department of Recreation and Park Administration

Under $50: Rain poncho. "There's no excuse for skipping your morning walk if you have a good rain poncho."
Sky's the limit: Adventure tour. An active vacation reduces stress and increases vitality.
-- Millicent Fleming-Moran, associate professor in the IU Department of Applied Health Science

Small talk Rx. With the holiday season and its obligatory social gatherings approaching, the shy among us have time to begin planning our wardrobe -- and small talk. By "shy among us," we mean the estimated 40 percent of the population that is shy. "Shy people think they're the only people who are shy," said Bernardo Carducci, psychology professor at Indiana University Southeast and director of its Shyness Research Institute. "They suffer in silence. We say, 'Look to your left, look to your right.'" Small talk often gets a bad rap -- usually by people who don't like to do it. But Carducci describes it as "the cornerstone of civility." When people make connections with others, however brief, they are less likely to hurt them. It also makes for good business -- Carducci's book, The Pocket Guide to Making Successful Small Talk: How to Talk to Anyone Anytime Anywhere About Anything, is used in at least one Ivy League business school. Carducci said he sees a lack of civility daily, with people connected to their PDAs and MP3 players instead of each other. Fortunately, small talk gets easier the more you do it. Carducci suggests practicing daily by offering compliments and talking briefly with people we encounter throughout the day.

Here, he offers tips for making and enjoying small talk. Also, see his five steps for successful small talk at

Problem: Racing heart, faster breathing, muscle tension -- these physical signs of anxiety cause problems only if you let them. Poor conversationalists focus on the physical elements instead of the conversation. "It's like someone is playing a radio in their head," Carducci said. "But this is what your body does when you're in situations where you want to do a good job."

  • Solution: Realize this is normal but don't suffer. If you think it's getting out of hand, excuse yourself and rest for a few minutes elsewhere. Also, show up early rather than late. This lets you adapt as the party evolves. Carducci compares this to walking into a hot room. You walk in but leave because of the discomfort. If you arrive when the room is not hot but the temperature gradually increases, your body -- and comfort level -- adapts to the change.

Problem: Alcohol. People drink alcohol to reduce the physical symptoms and mental discomfort. Alcohol slows everything down, however, including the brain's ability to keep up with the conversation and search itself for interesting things to say. In other words, alcohol makes it more difficult to make good conversation.

  • Solution: Give yourself time to warm up. Carducci said people also often confuse alcohol with the passage of time. They might drink a few drinks and then feel more comfortable talking with others or dancing. Carducci said they could have adapted without the alcohol, and the accompanying mental slowdown, if they had just given themselves time to warm up. They could have circulated around the room, listening to conversations, instead of drinking.

The quick talk solution: Talk with lots of different people for very brief periods of time. "You just walk around the room and introduce yourself," Carducci said. "This gets you moving around and warmed up." It also makes you more approachable by showing others that you feel comfortable talking to lots of people. If you meet someone you'd like to talk with further, you can always talk with them later.

Problem: Bad small-talkers think they have nothing interesting to discuss and that others will be judging their comments. This self-censorship can inhibit the ability to follow and contribute to a conversation.

  • Solution: Plan ahead and practice. Carducci suggested reading various news sources before the gathering to get an idea of what people might be discussing. Learn more about the event. If you're attending an art reception, for example, learn a little bit about the artist and gallery. Practice talking in front of a mirror to get used to the sound of your voice. Practice your discussions during the week with family members and coworkers so you get used to making the comments and answering questions.

Problem: People tend to hold themselves personally responsible for any flaws in the conversation. If someone excuses themselves and walk away, you often think they left because you bored them.

  • Solution: "Realize there are lots of reasons why the conversation could be difficult. The person you're talking to could be worse at it than you are," Carducci said. "That's the most likely bet."

Problem: Favorite topic and interrogations. Bad conversationalists get hung up on the "favorite topic" and ignore efforts to change topics. Others choose to simply ask questions, subjecting themselves to a one-sided conversation about the other person and forcing the other person to do all the conversation "work."

  • Solution: Avoid both.

Problem: Poor conversationalists come stocked with incredibly witty opening lines. Carducci said this puts pressure on everyone else to be incredibly witty and urbane and can stifle conversation.

  • Solution: Keep opening lines simple. With simplicity, you're saying, "You know, I want to talk to you; do you want to talk with me?"

Carducci can be reached at 812-941-2295 and To learn more about the Shyness Research Institute, visit

Staying active during the holidays. Squeezing in a workout during the busy holiday season is a challenging task. Two fitness experts from Indiana University's Division of Recreational Sports offer their advice on fitting in exercise during the festivities. Joellan Muyskens is the assistant director for group exercise, and Bryan Stednitz is the assistant director for strength and conditioning.

  1. Make your holiday activities calorie-burners, Muyskens said. "Much of what we plan for the holiday season revolves around delicious recipes, but you can also enjoy being active with your friends and family during your get-togethers. How about an evening of caroling or ice skating? You could even help each other decorate your houses for the season. Use your holiday shopping as a time to add in extra activity. If you comparison shop at the mall, you can wind up walking several miles! Even wrapping gifts burns some calories, so how about throwing a wrapping party? For New Year's, put on some music and dance."
  2. Morning workouts are best. Stednitz said that during busy times like the holidays, people have more success sticking to an exercise plan if it's the first thing on their schedule. "Working out first thing in the morning helps you make exercise a priority. During the holidays it can be harder to stick to an evening workout -- you have places to go and people to see and you run out of time. Plus, you're tired after work and want to relax." Stednitz said he relies on a morning workout to get him energized during the winter months. "Exercise and coffee get me rolling in the morning. It's a nice way to start your day."
  3. Circuit training. When all you have is 30 minutes, look for circuit training facilities or fitness classes, Muyskens said. "Circuit training keeps you moving from one exercise to the next so you can do a lot in a short amount of time. In half an hour you can get a full-body workout. It's a good option for frantic times like the holidays." Check with your local fitness facility for a circuit training room or group exercise classes. Many women's gyms follow a circuit training format based on a 30-minute routine.
  4. Let yourself off the hook. Put exercise in perspective, Stednitz said. "Staying active is important, but so is spending time with your family and friends. You are going to have those days when you can't make it to the gym. It's not the end of the world if you miss a workout. That's not a healthy way to think." Get the most out of your holiday season by balancing social activities and self-care. "In terms of total well-being, there's room for fitness and for fun."

The Division of Recreational Sports is part of the School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation at Indiana University Bloomington. Muyskens can be reached at 812-855-7772 and Stednitz can be reached at 812-855-7772 and

Take the bah humbug out of divorce, for your family's sake. The family fallout from divorce can be more apparent and challenging over the holidays, when competition for affection, delusions of picture- perfect family holidays and stress are in full gear. "Some college-age children of divorced parents actually refuse to go home over the holidays," said Robert Billingham, an associate professor in Indiana University Bloomington's Department of Applied Health Science. In addition to his research on the long-term effects of divorce on children, his research interests include parent/child interactions and interpersonal relationships. "They're faced with the same issues they faced as children, including what can become an unbearable competition for their time and affection. But now they have other options." Part of the problem, said Billingham, is that many holidays are family-focused and symbolize the perfect image of what "family" should be, such as families sitting around a Christmas tree opening presents. When this doesn't happen, holidays can seem incomplete or disappointing. Billingham offers the following tips:

  1. "If there is a visitation order dealing with the holidays, follow it to the letter. Don't personalize it." Express your love but limit the sarcasm and bitterness. "Tell your children, 'I love you very, very much but it's time to be at your father's house.'"
  2. Keep the competition for your children's affections in check because it could backfire when the children are older. Parents can become very competitive with each other, even buying their children gifts they know their ex-spouse disapproves of. "That feels good when you're five, but at some point you start to understand that it was a way of manipulating you and not freely giving to you," Billingham said.
  3. Examine your notion of loyalty. Often stepparents think their stepchildren should love them as much as they love their other parents or get along with them really well, particularly around the holidays. "It's always wise for stepparents to realize they are the child's parent's spouse, not the child's parent. This can be very difficult to do, particularly around the holidays."
  4. Keep it simple. Keeping your holidays simple makes you vulnerable if your partner is competitive. Over time, however, what the kids begin to pick up is which parent handled the holidays well and which didn't.
  5. Parents need to be sensitive to the feelings of stepchildren or visiting children. Sometimes these children can feel like they don't belong.
  6. Both sets of parents can plan activities that focus on the meaning of the holiday. They can plan to sing carols in nursing homes, for example, or help raise money for the disadvantaged. This helps children and adults realize the holidays are about more than families fighting.
  7. Parents should acknowledge and accept the traditions the other parent is trying to create in their home. The other parent has a right to do this.

Billingham can be contacted at 812-855-5208 and

For assistance with these tips, contact Tracy James, IU Media Relations, at 812-855-0084 and, or Elisabeth Andrews, IU Media Relations, at 812-856-3717 and