It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Unless you end up in the hospital. Suddenly those extra cookies and cocktails become your biggest regret. Instead of waiting for Santa, you’re waiting for your cardiologist.
Did you know that cardiac events spike during the holidays? Poor diet, increased stress, reduced sleep, and low sun exposure create the perfect storm for health problems. You don’t have to be a statistic, though. Follow these seven simple tips, and you will be well on your way to enjoying the holidays with a healthy heart.
The landslide that brings down health
Have you ever wondered why flu season typically peaks between December and February? As daylight decreases, we enter the season of sugar that begins in late October. Just as we finish raiding our kid’s Halloween stash, we jump right into pumpkin pie and stuffing. There is barely a break before we hit the homemade cookies, holiday parties, and spiked eggnog. Add in an argument with Uncle Joe and a few late nights, and you’ve seriously hampered your immune system. Viruses love the cooler weather, and you now are the prime host.
It should come as no surprise that the heart is compromised during this season as well. A recent study in the British Medical Journal found that the risk of having a heart attack is 37 percent higher on Christmas Eve. Heart attacks aren’t the only cardiac complications that arise around the holidays, either. Heart arrhythmias such as atrial fibrillation increase so significantly around the holidays that it’s nicknamed “holiday heart syndrome.”
How to have a heart healthy holiday season
You don’t need to wait until January 1st to get right with your health. You can enjoy a wonderful and healthy holiday season with just a bit of planning. So get started with these seven tips!
Eat (organic), drink (organic), and be merry
The holidays are a time to enjoy the sweeter things in life, like food and family. So there’s no reason that you can’t indulge a bit during this special time. When planning your holiday meals, focus on organic, local, grass-fed, and gluten-free. Enjoy a beautiful turkey, but avoid antibiotics and growth hormones by buying organic. Let vegetables be your friend, focusing on the abundance of fall and winter veggies, such as parsnips, Brussels sprouts, butternut squash, and other roasted roots. Don’t forget to add in winter greens like chard or collards.
If you want to enjoy a sweet treat, like pumpkin pie, make sure it’s organic and gluten-free. Eliminate processed sugar intake by using honey or maple syrup in recipes instead. Don’t overindulge, and keep it to one slice.
Stay away from conventionally bought sugar-filled beverages, like eggnog and hot chocolate. Instead, make your own at home using ingredients such as organic pasture-raised eggs, organic dark chocolate, and raw milk.
Avoid “holiday heart” by steering clear of alcohol. If you choose to celebrate with an alcoholic beverage, make it a single glass of organic, sulfate-free red wine. Better yet, enjoy a beautiful holiday spritzer mocktail. Check out this article for our heart-healthy Christmas dinner menu, including recipes!
Have many silent nights
The human body functions best when it follows the rhythm of the sun. This internal 24-hour clock, referred to as circadian rhythm, is essential for cardiovascular health. We would sleep and rise with the sun in an ideal world, just as our ancient ancestors did.
Unfortunately, sleep often gets put on the back burner during the holidays. Most Americans get much less than eight to nine hours of recommended sleep a night. The body doesn’t have much time for rest between travel, online shopping, and late-night holiday parties. Not only does sleep allow for vital repair, but it also reduces the amount of time that one could spend eating or stressing out.
Run, Rudolph, run (and you go with him!)
For some, the colder weather of the winter season makes it more challenging to get outside and exercise. Instead, many of us simply want to hibernate under a warm blanket. However, studies show that the more time that you spend in nature, the longer you live. Not to mention, outdoor exercise is also associated with lower cardiovascular health risks.
Be sure to fit in a long walk, a hike in the woods, or interval training each day. Also, make heart-healthy choices such as parking further away at the grocery store or taking the stairs instead of an elevator. Adding small bursts of exercise in your day will help to keep you healthy throughout the year.
Bring joy to the world – and get some back!
Stress is as detrimental to heart health as a poor diet and lack of exercise. Multiple studies have linked stress to heart attacks, strokes, and other cardiac issues, such as AFib. In addition, financial burdens, family dynamics, and packed schedules contribute to stress during the holidays.
Find moments of joy during the busy season by spending time with people you enjoy and minimizing time with those who create stress. Share the workload with family and friends by having potluck dinners. Minimize financial stress by creating a budget and sticking to it. Finally, find time for quiet, which will allow you to refuel and cultivate a positive mindset around the holiday season.
Deck the halls with non-toxic holly
We live in a polluted world, but you may be surprised to hear that our homes are some of the most toxic environments. Unhealthy chemicals from paint, carpeting, furniture, cleaning products, laundry soap, and air fresheners all contribute to high levels of indoor air pollution. Poor air quality in the home is linked to adverse cardiovascular outcomes.
The holiday season can add to poor air quality that impacts your heart health. While the smell of gingerbread candles and cinnamon-spiced air freshener sounds delightful, the chemicals in these artificial items are highly toxic. Likewise, the beautiful poinsettias, holly, and mistletoe are likely laden with pesticides.
It’s important to know that even your Christmas tree is possibly toxic. Artificial trees are often made with polyvinyl chloride (PVC), a major source of endocrine-disrupting phthalates. To make matters worse, they are typically covered in chemical flame retardants to avoid fires.
While you don’t need to avoid decorations altogether, it’s helpful to be aware of what you are bringing into your home. For example, instead of using candles to create the smell of the holidays, you can make a stovetop potpourri by boiling a few cinnamon sticks, cloves, orange slices, and a few sprigs of rosemary. When seeking out a tree, consider that there are currently 47 organic Christmas tree farms in the United States. Alternatively, you can start new traditions that save the trees and keep the chemicals out of your home.
Believe in the magic of sunshine
The benefits of sunshine are genuinely magical. Many of us are aware of the health benefits of vitamin D. What some people don’t realize, however, is the importance of sunlight in producing nitric oxide (NO). When UV light from the sun hits the skin, it releases nitrite, which gets converted into nitric oxide in the body. Nitric oxide has cardiovascular benefits such as vasodilation and reduction in blood pressure. Sunlight also boosts serotonin production in the brain, leading to improved mood.
While the holidays fall during the shorter days of the year, it’s essential to get outside and take in the sunshine, especially in the morning hours. Morning sun exposure helps to regulate melatonin production, allowing for better sleep at night. Getting regular sunshine is one of the best ways to have a heart-healthy holiday season.
There’s no place like the chiropractor’s office for the holidays
While the holidays are a busy time, don’t forgo your regular visit with a chiropractor. Travel puts strain on your body, as does carrying holiday packages. Getting adjusted helps decrease stress and optimize health during an otherwise chaotic time.
The holidays should be a time to nurture your heart with friends, family, and food. It’s never too early to begin a New Year’s resolution. So, starting today, resolve to give your one-and-only heart your very best. That way you’ll be around to enjoy many, many holidays to come.
Eat well, Live well, Think well
Medical Review: Dr. Lauren Lattanza NMD 2022