Stay Heart-Healthy This Holiday Season

By Deanna Lynn Sletten


The holiday season is a time for family gatherings, sharing gifts and enjoying savory foods but it can also be a time of stress and unhealthy eating which can play havoc on your heart.  If you already have high cholesterol, high blood pressure or have had a heart attack or stroke, you need to be especially careful to manage your stress, diet and exercise during the holiday season.


According to Dr. Rita Redberg, director of the Women’s Cardiovascular Services at the University of California, San Francisco, heart disease is the number one killer of men and women in the United States.  The average person gains five pounds during the holidays which places more stress on your heart.  Because of this, it is important for people with heart disease to be vigilant about their health during the holiday season.  That doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the fun and foods of the holidays, it only means to not indulge in excess so you can stick to a heart-healthy diet and lifestyle throughout the holiday season.


Here are some tips to stay heart-healthy this holiday season.


Choose healthy foods at holiday parties.  Between the office Christmas party, family dinners, hors d’oeuvre cocktail parties and New Year’s Eve celebrations you can easily eat too much fat, cholesterol and calories this holiday season.  When at a dinner party, try skipping the hors d’oeuvres so you can enjoy more of the dinner. Choose lean meats, like turkey, chicken or fish and pass on the ham, ribs or any fried entrees.  Reach for the yams or sweet potatoes instead of mashed potatoes and enjoy any vegetables that are served. You will still have a delicious meal without all the high-fat and high-carb calories.


Watch the alcoholic beverages.  Alcoholic beverages are high in calories that add up fast. They are also high in sugar which can make your blood sugar spike quickly.  Try having a soda or water before dinner is served and then opt for a glass of red wine with dinner. 


Pay attention to how much dessert you eat.  Cookies, cakes, pies and candies are everywhere during the holiday season and it is so tempting to want to try everything.  If you can’t resist dessert, try making the servings very small so you can enjoy the taste without eating too many calories.  When at work, try filling up on healthy foods like yogurt and fresh fruit so you won’t be tempted to eat too many treats that co-workers bring.


Manage holiday stress by taking time for yourself.  Gift buying, budget watching, shopping at busy malls, baking, cooking and running from party to party can cause stress to build up.  Relieve the stress by saying no to one or two invitations and using that time to spend quiet time by yourself.  Read a book, go for a walk or work on a favorite hobby.  Chronic stress can raise your blood pressure and place stress on your heart, so give yourself a break during the busy holiday season.


Maintain your exercise routine during the holidays.  What better way is there to combat weight gain than by maintaining your exercise routine throughout the holiday season?  Exercise not only burns off those unwanted calories but also strengthens your heart, lungs and muscles as well as relieves stress.  The American Heart Association recommends at least 30 minutes of exercise a day, five days a week.  Including at least 15 minutes of aerobic exercise is also recommended.  Walk, run, swim, lift weights or play your favorite sport once a day to help prevent weight gain and keep your heart strong.


Staying heart-healthy during the holiday season is possible if you watch the foods you eat, manage stress and continue to exercise.  By being proactive, you can enjoy the holidays and be heart-healthy too.