The songs of the season paint a romantic picture this time of year. But the reality is that the holidays, with their inevitable stresses, piles of rich food, and glasses of eggnog, can be very bad for your heart. Studies have shown that heart disease related deaths jump 5% this time of year; that’s almost 1,500 deaths each day. In fact, Americans have the most heart attacks on Christmas Day, the day after, and New Year’s. Here’s how to keep you or your loved ones from becoming one of them.
1. Give Peace a Chance
What can go wrong: Planning, shopping, wrapping, cleaning, cooking, hosting -- your to-do list balloons at the holidays. Add high expectations that the big day goes well, and your stress level can soar. Rising stress hormones elevate your blood pressure and heart rate, setting the stage for a heart attack.
What you can do: Bring a little peace back to the process -- arrange a 1 to 1 gift exchange so you have fewer folks to shop for, pick up a few premade options for the big meal from a local supermarket, take 5 minutes each day to breathe and remind yourself that everything will get done (and you might even have fun doing it!) If you feel depressed at the holidays, as many people do, talk to a good friend or a professional to ease the burden.
2. Get in the Spirit With Fewer Spirits
What can go wrong: The chemicals in alcohol can be toxic and irritating to heart muscle. And drinking alcohol in excess can trigger atrial fibrillation, an irregular heartbeat that increases your risk of stroke, heart attack, and heart failure.
What you can do: Enjoy low-fat eggnog without the rum, opt for mulled cider instead of mulled wine, stick to one glass of wine with dinner, enjoy sparkling water and conversation instead of champagne.
3. Pare Down That Platter
What can go wrong: Research has shown that eating one high fat meal can render your arteries less effective at pumping blood for up to 12 hours. Fat can cause the lining of your arteries to spasm, reducing the space for blood to flow. At the holidays when one big meal follows another, your arteries have few chances to recover from the damage.
What you can do: Treat this time of year like an eating marathon and not a sprint. Fill your plate with vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains at meals, saving a little bit of room for richer treats.