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12 Heart-Healthy Tips for the Holidays

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The holidays bring a lot of joyful events and good food. But preparing for those events can be stressful, and the abundance of delicious dinners and treats may put a dent in diet plans. Also, cold weather and fewer daylight hours can make you less physically active, keep you indoors, and dampen your desire to exercise.

The heart and vascular experts at the UAB Cardiovascular Institute agree that the holiday season can impact cardiovascular health. To help reduce that impact, they suggest trying these 12 heart-healthy tips for eating smart, staying active, and reducing stress during the holiday season.

  1. At parties and gatherings, try to focus on family, friends, and conversation. Let that distract you from lingering around the snacks, treats, and drink tables.
  2. To reduce the amount of high-calorie drinks you consume, drink a glass of water between each beverage. This helps fill your stomach, leaving less room to overindulge.
  3. Stay in touch with friends or family members who you are comfortable sharing your feelings with. Talking (rather than texting) openly about emotional ups and downs can prevent them from becoming full-scale stress and anxiety.
  4. Don’t make every day of the season a chance for indulgence. Choose and prepare for a few specific days to treat yourself. Doing so may prevent putting on the 1-2 pounds typically gained during the holidays.
  5. Try the “two spoons, one plate” method to share dessert with your significant other. This reduces sugar and fat intake.
  6. Get active after the big meal. Take the whole gang on a neighborhood tour to look at lights and decorations — on foot. If you have gifts for anyone close by, deliver those on foot as well.
  7. Rest reduces stress. Make a month-long commitment to getting plenty of sleep each night to compensate for hectic or exhausting schedules.
  8. Snack smart. Eat smaller portions of fried foods or crackers and bread loaded with butter or cheese and cream. Go for the fruit, vegetables, and dip, whole-grain breads and crackers, and baked or grilled items.
  9. For optimal cardiovascular benefit, try to reach at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise per week. Instead of making exercise a New Year's resolution, fit in small bits throughout each day.
  10. Colds, flu, and sinus infections, if they become severe, can take a toll on your heart. Protect your immune system by getting a flu shot, being careful about exposure to others, and getting enough rest.
  11. When faced with a wide variety of foods at the dinner table, choose your favorites that likely are available only during the holidays, and skip the items that you will see all year (skip the mac and cheese and go for the stuffing and turkey gravy).
  12. You may get some details wrong this year, but here’s the good news about the holiday season: It’s way too big and wonderful for your minor mistakes to ruin it. Reduce stress levels by not sweating the small stuff.

To learn more about the UAB Cardiovascular Institute or to schedule an appointment with a UAB cardiovascular physician, please visit uabmedicine.org/heart.