Tips on how you can have a heart healthy holiday season

The holidays are a time for friends, family, and fun. But with so much to celebrate and so many things to do, you may find yourself making unhealthy choices. Overindulging at meals, skipping physical activity, and letting stress get out of control can put a strain on your heart, sometimes leading to serious problems.

Below are five tips to help you have a heart-healthy holiday season.

Tips for a Heart-Healthier Holiday

1. Eat in moderation

You don’t have to skip your favorite holiday foods altogether, but it’s important to plan ahead, choose healthy holiday foods first, and be mindful of your portions. If you’re going to a party later in the day, have healthy meals and snacks beforehand so you’re not overly hungry when you arrive. During meals, choose vegetables first, and keep your serving of lean meat to one 3-ounce portion (about the size of a deck of cards). Stick to a small spoonful of other side dishes like stuffing or casseroles.

Desserts play a big part in almost every holiday celebration, but make sure you practice portion control for sweets as well. Split a slice of pie with a friend, have half a cookie, or try one piece of chocolate to get the sweet taste you crave without all the sugar, fat, and calories.

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2. Drink in moderation, too

Many holiday drinks pack in more sugar, fat, and calories than you might think. Opt for low-fat or fat-free milk in eggnog or hot chocolate, and make your own apple cider at home with unsweetened apple juice and cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg.

Drink alcohol in moderation: The American Heart Association recommends no more than two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women. Enjoy a glass of wine or your favorite mixed drink and then switch to water.

3. Make time for physical activity

Your holiday to-do list may be a mile long, but make sure you write in time for physical activity. Not only can regular activity help keep your weight, blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and blood sugar levels in check, it can also help you fight holiday stress.

Winter offers plenty of options for indoor and outdoor activity. This year, try ice skating, take a yoga class, choose a new fitness class at your gym, or just enjoy a walk around your neighborhood.

4. Take time to relax

Holiday stress can put a strain on your body, causing your heart to beat faster and making your blood pressure go up. Remember that it’s okay to skip a party or activity if you already have something planned or need to get some rest.

Take 20 minutes each day to do something you enjoy, like reading, knitting, or just sitting in a quiet room. And, it’s hard to enjoy the holidays if you’re exhausted, so make sure you get plenty of sleep.

5. Don’t ignore symptoms

Some studies show a rise in heart attacks and other cardiac events during the holidays. If you have symptoms like chest pains, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, dizziness, or fatigue, don’t dismiss it as nothing.

Talk to your doctor, or if you think you’re having a heart attack, call 911 right away. It’s always better to get checked out than to risk a potentially life-threatening problem.

To learn more, visit the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute or call 1-855-UPMC-HVI (876-2484).