Contact: Tom Capezzuto
Heart- Healthy Holidays:
Three steps you can take now to avoid resolutions in January
By Dr. Muhamed Saric
(Dr. Saric is assistant professor of medicine at University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, New Jersey Medical School, Newark)
11/21/05—The holiday season - from Thanksgiving to New Years Day - can pose a challenge if you are trying to maintain or improve your cardiac health. The onset of cold weather reduces outdoor activity. If you are watching your diet, dinners with family and friends provide temptation with an abundance of rich foods. Parties present opportunities to overindulge in alcohol. Even the stress of finishing year-end work projects, gift buying, and fitting in all the social obligations and gatherings can distract you from taking care of your own health. The holidays are supposed to be a time of joy and sharing, but for many they end in January leaving only a few extra pounds and new resolutions to do better in the coming year.
Here are three things you can do during the six weeks of the holiday season to help you start 2006 feeling good and good about yourself. And, most importantly, they aren’t about denial but enjoying the holidays to the fullest
1. Incorporate physical activity into everyday life
You already know that exercise is important to your heart health. If you already exercise regularly, that’s great. But notice that this guideline doesn’t use the word "exercise" or suggest joining a gym or taking up a sport. Many people feel intimidated by the thought of "exercise" and the exertion and commitment it takes to have a regular routine. As a result, they make the mistake of doing nothing and lose an opportunity to make a real difference in their cardiac health.
Over the next six weeks seek out ways to add a additional physical activity into your everyday life. An option of an escalator or stairs? Take the stairs. An option to park right by the store entrance or a little farther away? Park farther away and take a walk. Eat at your desk for lunch? Go out to get lunch and add in a walk. Leaves covering your lawn? Use a rake and skip the leaf blower. The music is good? Get up and dance!
If each day you can find two or three opportunities to move a little more, you will be making a real difference for your heart.
2. Focus on portion size
The constantly shifting news on which foods are good for the heart can be confusing. The basics still apply: fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and low-fat sources of protein should form the base of your diet. As important as what you eat, however, is how much you eat. Being overweight is a major factor for a variety of heart ailments. Some studies estimate that the average American gains 1.5 pounds during the holiday season.
It's hard enough to focus on diet during the rest of the year without the added challenges brought by the holidays. Your downfall may be the bowls of candy on your colleague's desk, appetizers at the office party, or rich desserts at family feasts. It is hard to say "no" when food is such an integral part of socializing and celebrating.
So, instead of denying yourself, this holiday season focus on portion control. Say "yes" when offered but only once. Pass up second helpings. This way you can have a little of everything without overdoing it. It is always better to choose healthier foods, but that is not always possible. So focus on how much you are eating. Weight gain is a result of simple arithmetic - more calories taken in then expended as energy each day. You can get through the holidays without gaining weight.
3. Limit alcohol intake
Several studies have concluded that one to two alcoholic drinks per day will not hurt the heart for most adults, and may even be beneficial. More than this amount on a regular basis, however, is another major risk factor for heart conditions such as hypertension. The holidays not only present more opportunities for drinking, but social pressure can lead to drinking more than usual. If you’re a cocktail drinker and feel the need to have a drink in hand, switch to seltzer and lime after the first round. If you enjoy wine with your meal, skip the pre-dinner drinks. So, raise a glass of good cheer, but make it only one or two.
Follow these three guidelines and give a gift to yourself and your heart this holiday season.