‘Tis the season to be jolly, not plump! The holidays can play havoc with your health regimen.
Office parties, family get-togethers, traveling and holiday meals can make it difficult to keep diet and exercise at the top of your Christmas list. Remembering to take time out during the busy holiday season for your health, however, can do more than just warm your heart; it can save it.
Americans are rapidly gaining weight. During the holidays, particularly, it’s easy to over-indulge. And what may seem like a harmless splurge at a couple of holiday parties, may lead to poor eating habits all year.
Obesity is defined simply as too much body fat. It is caused mainly by taking in more calories than are used up in physical activity and daily life. When people eat too many calories or too much saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol, their blood cholesterol levels often rise. That raises their risk of heart disease.
Nearly two-thirds of U.S. adults are overweight or obese, a major risk factor for heart disease. Extra weight puts a great strain on the heart by forcing it to work harder to pump blood to the arteries. It also:
* Raises blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels, clogging your arteries.
* Lowers HDL “good” cholesterol, the cholesterol that works to clear your arteries.
* Raises blood pressure, which puts an extra strain on your heart and arteries.
* Can lead to diabetes, another risk factor for heart disease
To keep your weight and activity level in check this season, try these tips:
* Cook healthy: Cut down on saturated fat in creamy dressings by mixing in some nonfat or low-fat plain yogurt. Substitute chopped vegetables for some of the bread in your stuffing recipe.
* Never attend a holiday party hungry! Snack a little on healthy foods at home before you go so you don’t over-indulge upon arrival.
* Wait 20 minutes before getting seconds. You’ll often find that you’re no longer hungry.
* Start a new healthy holiday tradition like walking around the neighborhood to view Christmas lights. You’ll be spending time with family and getting great exercise.
Taking care of your heart is one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself and your family. Remember to practice heart-healthy habits not only during this festive season, but throughout the entire year.
Mailbag: Questions from our readers
Dale Faughn, of Fredonia, writes:
What is the temporary and/or lasting effect on the blood pressure of a regular blood donor?
Dr. Withrow answers:
Blood donors will experience a temporary decrease in blood pressure at the time of donation. Levels should resume to normal within minutes to hours, however, with no permanent effects.
Stacey Atkins, of Paducah, writes:
I’ve heard that caffeine and some decongestants make the heart “race.” Can you explain?
Dr. Withrow answers:
Some tissues in the body are electrically-active. Among those are the conducting tissues of the heart which control heart rate. Stimulants like caffeine and decongestants can enhance the electrical properties of those tissues, causing a rapid heart rate and extra heart beats. Heart patients should limit caffeine and consult their physicians before consuming any prescription or over-the-counter medications.