The holidays are upon us, and that means your social calendar AND your to-do list are probably filling up quickly. Between work parties and holiday gatherings, shopping trips and making meals, it’s easy to feel stressed and overwhelmed.
Holiday stress can have an effect not only on our mental health but our physical health, too. If you are living with heart disease, the added stress of the holiday season can increase blood pressure and increase your risk of a heart attack.
5 ways to find balance and enjoy this holiday season while still focusing on your heart health.
- Stay active.
- Don’t drink alcohol in excess.
- Eat a balanced diet.
- Keep a positive mindset.
- Know when to slow down.
- Stay Active.
As the cold temperatures set in and we have fewer daylight hours, it can be easy to put off physical activity.
But staying physically active is crucial for managing cardiovascular disease. It also helps you regulate your emotions and stave off the holiday stress.
When the temperature drops too low, it can tighten your arteries and restrict blood flow, causing you to experience chest pain during outdoor activities. So you’ll want to follow certain precautions if you choose to exercise outside during winter weather.
If possible, try to maintain the activities you were doing in the summer and fall. If you had gotten into a good exercise routine, try to keep it. If the weather dictates that you switch it up, consult with your doctor or health team about the activities you can practice safely in the colder months.
If you do exercise outside in the cold, wear multiple layers of clothing, and be sure to choose a base layer with moisture-wicking properties to absorb sweat. It is harder for those with heart conditions to regulate body temperature, so having multiple layers will allow you to start out warm and then remove layers as needed.
And always listen to your body and stay tuned for how it feels during activity.
If winter storms or extreme cold keep you from getting outside, here are some ways you can stay active indoors:
- Visit your local gym or YMCA for a few laps in the indoor pool or to walk on an indoor track.
- Do some gentle yoga. Check out our free yoga videos for people with heart disease.
- Clean the house. As you’re prepping your home for a holiday party, vacuuming, dusting, and cleaning your house will help keep you on your feet for some light exercise.
- Dance it out! Have a blast at your work holiday party and get moving to some of your favorite tunes.
- Don’t Drink Alcohol in Excess.
Heavy drinking increases the risk of heart disease and other conditions. And if you’re already living with heart disease, it’s especially important to monitor your alcohol intake and talk to your doctor about whether you have the green light to drink at all.
For most people, it’s totally fine to have a glass of wine or two with their holiday meal, but you’ll want to be mindful of how much you consume, especially if you’re on medication for heart disease. If you choose to have a drink with dinner, skip the cordials with dessert and opt for a decaf coffee instead.
According to the American Heart Association, moderation is key. Too much alcohol can increase blood sugar, which can damage the nerves that control your heart. As a rule of thumb, women should consume no more than one drink per day.
And remember, you don’t HAVE to have alcohol during holiday gatherings. You can still enjoy the festivities and yummy treats without the booze. Check out these holiday mocktail recipes for some delicious non-alcoholic drink options.
- Eat a Balanced Diet.
Even if you’re used to eating a balanced diet, keeping up with healthy habits during the holidays can be difficult. But you don’t have to completely miss out on grandma’s Christmas cookies or pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving. Again, moderation is the magic word. Monitor your portion sizes, and be sure to balance your sugary desserts with plenty of vegetables, whole grains, and proteins.
Other tips for making your holiday meals healthy include:
- Reduce or replace added sugar to your homemade recipes.
- Look for desserts or recipes that use fruit, which can satisfy your sweet tooth without added sugars.
- Reduce sodium intake by using fresh or frozen vegetables instead of canned.
- Incorporate whole grains like brown rice or crackers to increase your fiber intake.
- Limit your intake of red meat. Choose a fish entree instead of steak or prime rib to get more healthy fats and omega-3 fatty acids.
If you’re hosting a meal or bringing a dish to a holiday party, check out these heart-healthy holiday recipes so you can enjoy the company and not stress about what you’ll be able to eat.
- Keep a Positive Mindset.
There’s a clear correlation between mental health and heart disease. Depression and anxiety can increase your risk for heart disease, and living with heart disease can increase your risk for depression and anxiety. And the added stress of the holidays can create an exceptionally vulnerable period of time if you’re dealing with a mental health or heart condition, so it’s important to practice self-care during this busy time of year.
One great way to stay in the right mindset (not just during the holidays but at any time of year) is to start your day with a gratitude practice. Keep a journal and begin your morning by writing down three things you’re grateful for each day. These could be big things like your loved ones or your health, or they could be small things like the smell of a fresh cup of coffee in the morning or some extra snuggles from your furry friend. Starting off with a positive mindset sets the tone for the rest of your day.
- Know When to Slow Down.
Finally, know when to listen to your body and know when to slow down. It can be tempting to say “yes” to every invitation and over-commit ourselves by volunteering for every event that comes up, hosting all the parties, buying all the gifts, and making all the meals. But remember, it’s totally okay to politely pass up invitations when you aren’t feeling your best or need time to rest and recover.
One way to stay accountable to yourself is to plan your calendar out in advance. Think about how many commitments you’re comfortable with each week, and then don’t schedule out any more than that. And if the time comes to attend an event you’ve already committed to and you aren’t feeling up to it, that’s okay, too! Simply reach out to your host and let them know you’ll have to miss the event but will be happy to catch up with them at another time.
Find Support During the Holiday Season With WomenHeart
It’s possible to live AND thrive with a heart disease diagnosis, and WomenHeart is here for you. Look for a support network in your community, or you can connect one on one with another woman like you who is managing a heart condition through our SisterMatch app.