Heart Wise Holiday Tips

Happy December to all! For many, December marks the official launch of the holiday season. The sights & sounds of the season are in full force, along with a myriad of seasonal festivities. Holiday parties, family gatherings, and potentially even some well-deserved vacation time are upon us. With all of these events filling our calendar the holiday season creates a challenge to maintain our normal “heart healthy” routines. All the planning, decorating, shopping, spending, travelling, eating, drinking, and out of the norm scheduling can throw not only our diet for a loop, but also our regular exercise routine, sleep schedule, spending habits, and inevitably adds more stress. This all can have a tremendous effect on our overall health, and along with the colder weather, increases the risk of death from a heart attack and stroke by about 10%. The “Holiday Heart Attack” is something we all want to avoid, and if we already are at risk with having known risk factors or a previous event, we need to think seriously about ways to stay healthy during the holidays.

Diet Tips:

  • 80/20 Rule – 80% of the food you eat know that it’s good for you vs 20% is all those yummy holiday treats.
      • Look at your week, and on the days you have full control of your meals, make sure you eat really well. Tons of veggies of all colors, drink water, lean towards fish, chicken, beans & lentils for protein. Watch our video on heart healthy eating for a refresher.
      • Watch portions – when you are at holiday dinners, watch how much you are putting on your plate. Take less than you think or want, resist going back for seconds, and enjoy the taste of it all without needing to undo your belt, or get that “oh I ate too much” feeling.
      • Choose the good before the bad. Put the more healthy options on your plate first, and then be selective as to which of the more unhealthy options you want as a treat. Remember the 80/20 rule.
      • Be choosy at the buffet table, it’s easy to put a little bit of everything on your plate, and end up with a mound of food by the end. Make good choices, pick and choose what to put on your plate, and leave out the rest. Always aim to have color on your plate. Many of the “bad” foods are relatively colorless.. if you’ve got color its more likely better for you.
      • Have a healthy snack before going to your holiday dinner so you aren’t as hungry going into it. This may allow you to make better choices in terms of portions, and help you to say no to choices you know aren’t good for you.
      • Limit alcohol – if it is a BYOB event, take sparkling water or a non-alcoholic beverage to enjoy. You still get the feeling of having a special drink in your hand, without the negative effect of the alcohol or added calories.

Exercise Tips:

  • “Failure to Plan is planning to fail” – this rings very true when time is of the essence. Take it one week at a time. Look at your week, and plan in when you would be able to sneak away for some quick bouts of exercise. Make it a priority to use your time wisely. Even just 10 or 20 minutes of purposeful walking or a quick exercise video can make a huge difference. It’s not only great for your heart, but also a great stress reliever, and gives you a moment to think about what’s coming next.
  • On days where blocking off time is just too challenging, think about the simple things such as parking your car at the far end of the parking lot, or simply choose to stand up! Be conscious of your sitting time, and when you notice you are moving from one chair to another, choose to stand instead. Stand at the kitchen counter to visit, stand and watch the football game for a while, get up and mingle around the room… better yet take a few laps around the room if you can!
  • Be an exercise Leader and ask your friends & family to go for a pre or post dinner walk! Caution with exercising too intensely right after a meal. Much of your blood flow is being diverted to your digestive system; so if you choose to do a post dinner walk, make it more of an easy stroll. If you have company staying with you, include them in your exercise plan and ask your company to do a video with you!

Sleep tips:

  • With being a bit pickier on how much food and alcohol we take in, we will reap the benefits with a more restful sleep. Both the amount and types of foods/drinks we take in prior to bed impacts our ability to rest. Caffeine and alcohol are primary culprits for affecting our sleep. After dinner coffee, holiday chocolates, as well as the alcoholic drinks are bound to reduce our ability to sleep well.
  • On days you have full control, head to bed a little earlier to help the recovery for the late nights. Set an alarm on your watch to help remind you that its time for bed.
  • Including exercise in your day will help you sleep. Too much sitting is not a good thing and can make your body feel restless and unable to settle into bed.
  • Have a time in your mind that you are going to say your goodbyes from an event so that you can get a decent sleep. It’s ok not to be the last one at the party. It’s also ok to let your company know you’ve got to turn in for the night, even if they are staying up a little later.

Stress Tips:

  • Remember you are human. You have limits, you don’t have to have a perfectly clean home, perfect food, perfect outfit, decorations, or live up to all the perceived expectations of others in your mind. Do what you feel comfortable with. Rest when you feel you need it. It’s ok to say no.
  • In terms of gift shopping, the stress to find the perfect gift, to potentially extend the budget to get that perfect gift can lead to major stress. This stress can not only dominate the shopping experience prior to the holidays but when the bills pile in, can dominate the stress for months to come as well. Remember, as corny as it sounds, those that care about you, care about you for you, not because of what you buy them. Your presence, your love, is all that matters at the end of the day. If you can’t physically be there, a phone call does wonders. Remember the value of the gift of time. Try to take the pressure off.
  • Exercise, diet, and sleep all impact your ability to cope with stress. Focusing on making as many good choices as you can, will help ease the stress levels.

Happy Holidays to you all! We hope you have a safe, happy, and healthy holiday season and a wonderful New Year!!
Cam & Shawna

Shawna Cook

Shawna is a Certified Clinical Exercise Physiologist through the American College of Sports Medicine, who has been working in Cardiac Rehabilitation for over 10 years. Her years in the health and fitness field however have spanned over the past 2+ decades. As an elite level athlete she fell in love with understanding the human body, and how the choices she made, affected how it performed. This led to a degree from the University of Winnipeg in the stream of Athletic Therapy, and the passion towards helping others recover from injury and "be their best selves" grew.