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Santa’s Heart-Healthy Makeover for the Holidays

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When it comes to celebrating the holidays, Santa Claus is one of the leading experts. Good old St. Nick gets a lot right this time of the year, as he keeps up with the demands of delivering toys to children around the world. He gets lots of activity, has a supportive spouse, spends time with animals, and engages in positive thinking – all of which are wonderful stress-relievers during the holidays.

But just like the rest of us, even Santa makes some less healthy choices during the holiday season, such as eating too many cookies, packing on extra pounds, and feeling the enormous pressures of his work. So, to get Santa in the best possible shape for the holidays, UAB Cardiovascular Institute Nurse Practitioner Jody Gilchrist, MSN, CRNP, shared some heart-healthy tips with him that might help you have a healthier holiday season, too.

1. Limit Sweets: “Share the cookies with the reindeer, and insist that they share their carrots and apples with you,” Gilchrist told Santa. For the rest of us, she recommends, “Share a dessert with someone or only take 1-2 bites, to enjoy the taste but save the hips.” But it’s not just sweets that are on the “naughty list” during the holiday season. Instead of chips, Gilchrist suggests serving peppers, celery, carrots, and cucumbers with your favorite dips to get more antioxidants, vitamins, and fiber in your diet while cutting out extra calories and saturated fats.

2. Rethink Your Drink: Gilchrist’s beverage recommendations to Santa were, “Drink the bottled water instead of the milk, and no alcohol on the job.” For her other patients, she recommends avoiding “liquid calories” and drinking mostly water instead. “If you don't drink alcohol, don’t start,” she says. “If you do drink alcohol, limit it to 1-2 servings per day. Pinot noir is the healthiest alcoholic beverage. If you do drink a cocktail or holiday punch, consider diluting it with seltzer or water to cut down on the calories.”

3. Move More, Sit Less: “Try walking from house to house instead of riding in the sleigh,” Gilchrist suggested to Santa during his yearly checkup. This is a great tip for getting more exercise, because although the American Heart Association recommends 45-55 minutes of aerobic activity five days a week, Gilchrist says taking just a 15-minute walk every day reduces mortality by 11%. So, park far from the door in parking lots, take the stairs instead of the elevator, and get out and walk as often as possible. It all adds up.

4. Feel Less Stress: Helping other people is a great way to show your generosity during the holiday season while also reducing your own stress. “Think of something that you enjoy doing that might help others,” Gilchrist suggests. “If you are a retired teacher, you might enjoy tutoring. If you enjoy cooking, you might try cooking for the homeless or families in need. If you enjoy shopping, you may want to shop for the Salvation Army’s Angel Tree program. If you enjoy reading, you may want to record stories for nursing home residents.”

5. Don’t Duck the Doc: Regular medical checkups help detect small problems before they become larger issues, so Santa definitely had the right idea by visiting Gilchrist before the holidays. For example, high blood pressure can be reduced with simple diet changes – such as not adding salt to favorite holiday foods – before it leads to a stroke, kidney failure, or heart failure. Your doctor also can help you manage medical symptoms that may prevent you from exercising as much as you’d like.

6. Strive for Better Sleep: Staying up all night delivering gifts probably isn’t the healthiest sleeping habit for Santa, but there are many things he can to do feel more rested and prepare his body for the season. In addition to daily exercise, Gilchrist suggests that you limit caffeine (especially after noon), reduce time spent watching TV and staring at electronic screens, avoid eating 2-3 hours before bedtime, and talk to your doctor if you are consistently tired during the day, even when you had a good night’s sleep.

Make an appointment for your own heart health checkup by calling 800-UAB-8816 or schedule online.