Holiday Survival for a Healthy Heart
Most of us love celebrating the holidays—what’s not to love about parties, food, family and travel? But just because you’re celebrating, don’t let the festivities get in the way of your heart healthy habits.
The American College of Emergency Physicians says a particular concern this time of year is dubbed “holiday heart syndrome,” an irregular heartbeat that occurs in otherwise healthy people. It can be the result of stress, lack of sleep, excessive alcohol or caffeine, coupled with dehydration. If an irregular heartbeat lasts for more than a few hours, seek immediate medical attention. Meanwhile, yes, Virginia, there is a way to celebrate without letting the Grinch steal your heart healthy ways. Here’s how:
Come prepared. Eat a small meal or snack before the party so you won’t overindulge in too many goodies. Make healthy choices like lean turkey and plenty of vegetables. Then, rather than eat everything offered, take only a few holiday items you love most—ones that best represent the holiday to you and keep portions small: egg nog, latkes or pecan pie, for instance. Savor holiday foods as a special treat. You can eat deviled eggs or chocolate chip cookies any time. If you’re hosting, prepare a few healthy dishes like a crudities tray. Splurging on chocolate? Choose dark over milk for heart healthy antioxidants. Focus on connecting with others rather than standing around the buffet. Check out this useful guide for more healthy holiday foods.
Limit yourself to one alcoholic or treat beverage per party or festivity. Choose champagne, beer or wine rather than a mixed drink to limit calories. Red wine has been linked to heart healthy benefits. Alternate alcohol with lots of water or club soda. Check with your doctor about the amount of alcohol that’s appropriate for you. Remember, over-imbibing can lessen your will when it comes to indulging in foods and treats.
Try to keep up a few healthful daily routines while you’re away such as eating fruit for breakfast, including your usual anti-oxidant-rich cup of green tea, or fitting in a mid-day nap. Healthy routines help ground you during the most chaotic times. Don’t forget to take vitamins or medications while away. Set a smart phone alarm so you don’t fall out of routine and forget.
Just because you’re away or hosting the family, you can still make time to be active. Take a walk with the grandkids, get the whole family in on a snowball fight or arrange a sledding or ice skating afternoon. Rise early so you can fit in your workout before everyone’s up. Cold weather can come with additional risks since your heart has to work harder when it’s frosty, so dress in layers, take precautions and use good judgement when exercising outdoors.
Rip Van Winkle
Researchers have recently zoomed in on the sleep sweet spot to protect against heart disease risks, typically 7-8 hours nightly. Seems sleeping too little and sleeping too much both may have negative heart consequences. Aim for the Goldilocks effect between 7-8 hours nightly to not only foster good heart health but prevent exhaustion, dial down stress and rock a healthy immune system.
To manage stress, share cooking and cleaning duties with a family member if possible. Don’t RSVP to too many socials, you’ll need downtime to decompress. Start planning, shopping and decorating well in advance so you’re not crunched at the finish line. Even Santa has elves. Keep in mind the holiday is about spending time with loved ones, not the perfect table setting or pie crust. Prioritize the most important tasks, delegate others and let the rest go and enjoy yourself.