Sure, the holiday season is a great time for get-togethers, but it’s also synonymous with a great deal of stress (gift buying and financial strains, meddling family members and office party politics to name just a few). According to a 2006 survey by the American Psychological Association, 44% of women and 31% of men report increased stress over the holidays. So great is the stress that a study published in the journal Circulation showed that there are 5% more heart-related deaths during the holidays.
In Circulation, Robert A. Kloner, MD, PhD of the Heart Institute, Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles, CA wrote that in “November, December, and January, we were struck by an increase in deaths starting around Thanksgiving, climbing through Christmas, peaking on New Year’s Day, and then falling . . .” What began as a study to assess a correlation between a spike in heart related issues and colder temperatures in the Los Angeles area turned into findings showing that serious health changes were related to ” . . . the emotional stress of the holidays, overindulgence during the holiday season, or both.”
Here are 5 tips to stay healthy during the holidays.
1. Stay on the Healthy Food (and Body) Track
We know it’s human to sometimes reach for more than the recommended portion, especially during the holidays when we dive into those mixed nuts . . . four times. Try to stay on track by maintaining the healthy diet you already enjoy. If you’re going to have more of anything, make it extra vegetables and fruits rather than candies and salted foods. It’s suggested that the increase in saltier foods, coupled with the decrease in exercise (walking from store to store in search of gifts doesn’t count as exercise) increases strain in the body that leads to heart problems this time of year. Sadly, harm to the lining in the arteries can last up to 12 hours after eating such foods.
2. Enjoy the Fireplace . . . From a Distance
Fine particulates from fireplace smoke can get into lungs, cause spasms in the arteries and lead to clots and heart attacks. Many experts suggest making sure there’s proper ventilation in the room and to stand at least six feet from a burning fireplace.
3. Take Symptoms Seriously
“People tend to delay care around the holidays,” said Steve Polevoi, medical director of the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) Emergency Department. “They may have symptoms of cardiovascular disease such as abdominal or chest discomfort which they interpret as indigestion or overeating, but in fact it could be cardiac ischemia.” People also feel awkward, especially in situations where they hope to impress (such as in-laws, a date or boss), and therefore are less inclined to speak up if they start to feel symptoms of a heart attack. Know your body and don’t be afraid to say something if you suspect your health is in jeopardy.
4. Lay Low on the Alcohol
Polevoi also says to be aware of the amount of alcohol we consume during the holidays. While red wine has been shown to have antioxidant benefits in some studies, not everyone stops at a couple of glasses. Or, they indulge in mixed drinks with a higher alcohol content. In some cases, overconsumption is life-threatening. “We must wait until their blood alcohol level decreases and that’s a slow process,” Polevoi says. “Basically we are left with lots of patients in semi-conscious states. They often spend six or eight hours with us until they’re sufficiently sober to go home.”
5. Get a Case of the Giggles
Debbie Friend, founder and CEO of LifeCurrents, a stress management and wellness company that focuses on yoga, says smiling during the holidays is essential to our health. “Smile as widely as you can. Then take a deep breath,” Friend says. “As you let it out: Let your jaw hang slack, shoulders sag, and forehead smooth out. She says that laughter is a terrific stress reliever that bolsters mood and rids anxiety that many people feel this time of year.