It’s that time of year again. The holiday season sneaks up quickly and before you know it, every weekend is filled with holiday gatherings, not to mention all of the delicious foods! While this is definitely a time to relax while enjoying the company of good friends and family (and yes, some indulgence), it is always important to set limits and ensure the season is a healthy one. For those at risk of conditions such as coronary artery disease, this is an especially important time to watch eating habits and activity level. Research shows that the rate of heart attack increases during the holiday season and can be associated with increased stress, overindulgence in fatty foods, and excess salt intake. Here are 5 tips to get you started on a wonderful and healthy season.
1. Set limits and do your best to stick to them.
Before arriving at holiday parties or family dinners, set limits as to what you are willing to splurge on. With food, plan to fill your plate with at least half fruits or veggies, leaving room for only the items you truly want to indulge in. For me, that means potato pancakes but to each their own! The same goes for alcoholic beverages. Set a maximum number of drinks (say 2) and do your best to stick to that number. Consider substituting your regular beverage choice for red wine to get the benefits of polyphenols which may play a role in limiting the progression of atherosclerosis (a hardening of the arteries due to plaque buildup). Encourage those that go with you to do the same. Not only will your head appreciate it in the morning, the rest of your body will thank you as well.
2. Consider eating before attending a party, especially if you have more than one lined up.
I know that when I go to the grocery store on an empty stomach, I’m much more likely to walk out with far more than I need. The same goes for parties. If you plan to eat a light meal or snack prior to attending a holiday party, you will be less inclined to overindulge. With a clear mind, you will be enabled to make better, heart healthy decisions.
3. If you’re hosting, help your guests make good decisions.
Now, I’m not saying you need to put out a meal designed for rabbits but this year, try substituting some of the higher fat items for something equally as delicious and twice as healthy. For instance, hummus instead of cream-based dip for veggies, mashed cauliflower (try this recipe from food blogger Gina Homolka) instead of potatoes, or mixed berries with cool whip instead of cherry pie. All of these substitutions have positive benefits for your overall cardiovascular health as they are all vitamin and nutrient rich. Not only will they be satisfying, they will also help you and your guests feel good about their intake.
4. Remember, too much of a good thing can be a bad thing.
Just because something is labeled as “healthy” does not mean this stands in large quantities. Nuts for instance are a great source of protein and heart healthy fats however they are still very high in calories and fat. Consider what an actual serving size is for each item you put on your plate and try to stick to that amount.
5. Don’t forget about your exercise regimen.
Now, many of us make New Year’s resolutions to go to the gym more, but what if you got jumpstarted on your resolution early? Research shows exercise plays a major role in preventing and even treating heart disease by strengthening your heart, lowering blood pressure, improving circulation, and reducing stress. If you are a regular gym goer, make sure you build time into your busy schedule to keep up with your regimen. If you need to start exercising more, start the holiday season off on a good foot by working at least 3 days of exercise into your schedule. Try one of these exercise plans designed for beginners to get started. Not only will you feel great and relieve some stress, your new healthy habit may lead to better decisions when deciding what to eat. Be careful though; don’t use your new workout to excuse overeating later.
The key to managing your heart risks and ensuring you exit the holiday season feeling as great as you did before is to keep in mind that every decision you make, healthy or otherwise, will contribute to your overall health and wellness. These are just a few tips to help you along your way.