Too much food, too little exercise and an overload of stress during the holidays is a triple threat to your heart, even if you maintain good habits the rest of the year.
"When there's that pressure of the holidays, even people who take care of themselves tend to not do it as much," says Jennifer Scott, an exercise physiologist in the cardiac rehabilitation department at Providence Medford Medical Center.
Scott offers these holiday heart-healthy tips:
1. Think about why you're eating. "Ask yourself, 'Am I really hungry or am I eating because mom only makes peach pie at Christmas and I'm not getting peach pie again for another year?'" she advises. Going cold turkey on treats generally doesn't work. Better to choose carefully and watch portion sizes.
2. Don't stop exercising — even as family members are settling in for a post-binge nap. "It's best to get at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise a day," Scott says. "However, in crunch time, it can be broken up throughout the day — a 10-minute walk after meals, for example." She suggests using the "excuse" of creating traditions as a way to get loved ones to join you.
3. Find healthy alternatives to heart-threatening habits. Alcohol and tobacco are devastating to heart health. Even if you've quit or use them in moderation the rest of the year, holiday stress and social pressures can derail you. "Overcome the pressure to drink by carrying a glass of juice — no one will know," Scott says. "Smoking, that's an oral thing. Find something to replace that, like chewing a toothpick. If smoking means going outside for a break, go out and take a walk — without smoking."
Finally, maintaining healthy habits throughout the holidays is good for your heart in more ways than one.
"When we take care of ourselves, we give others permission to do the same," Scott says. "This makes us healthier, happier individuals and better able to care for those we love."