The holidays are often full of family, friends and food—lots and lots of food. But with a little planning, you can use them as an opportunity to rejuvenate your lifestyle and become heart healthy. We’ve collected a few tips from University of Minnesota Health Cardiologist Robert Ketroser, MD, FACC, and other heart-healthy organizations that can help you make smart decisions this holiday season—all so that you can enter the New Year feeling confident you’re on the right track to improving your heart health.
Start your New Year’s Smoking Resolution Early
Many people use their New Year’s resolution as motivation to rid themselves of unhealthy habits—namely, smoking. Smoking tobacco can cause coronary heart disease and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say cigarette smokers are two to four times more likely to develop coronary heart disease than nonsmokers. Try cutting down the number of cigarettes you smoke per day before the New Year to make progress toward quitting; but keep in mind that smoking cessation is the ultimate goal.
Ketroser recommends eating at least one fruit or vegetable after 3 p.m. to prevent overeating at big supper meals. Eating fruits and vegetables early will allow you to eat more reasonable portions at supper while also enjoying the health benefits at the same time. Both food groups have plenty of nutrients and are low in calories. They also contain fiber and water, which can help you feel full early without eating as much.
Consume smaller meals
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Ketroser also recommends eating more, smaller meals of 200 calories or less over the course of the day, rather than fewer, larger meals. Research has shown that eating frequent, smaller meals can help keep your cholesterol levels lower and will help your body maintain energy reserves for your body and brain. The University of Minnesota Center for Spirituality and Healing recommends eating every three to four hours.
Exercise Early and Often
After taking time off from work or school, it may be tempting to take time off from exercising, too. But the holidays are actually a great opportunity to get yourself into a healthy routine for the New Year. The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise to help lower the risk of heart disease and stroke. Meeting your New Year’s resolution will seem less daunting if you already have a head start on implementing a heart healthy lifestyle.
Reduce Stress by Talking with Friends, Loved Ones
The holidays can be a joyful—but stressful—time as families try to coordinate holiday gatherings and carve out time to shop for loved ones. When people become stressed, their bodies release adrenaline, a hormone that temporarily increases your breathing, heart rate and your blood pressure. Too much stress can lead to unhealthy lifestyle decisions, like overeating, drinking alcohol and inactivity, all of which can be detrimental to your blood pressure. Both Ketroser and the American Heart Association recommends talking with those you care about at least once a day during the holidays. Sharing your feelings with people you care about can reduce your stress levels and lead you to a healthier, stress-free holiday season.