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Don’t fall victim to the holiday heart attack

Maintaining healthy habits will help reduce your risk through the festive season
Woman sitting in front of a christmas tree looking sad

It’s a sobering reality amid the holiday cheer: More people die from a heart attack or stroke in the winter months than during warmer weather, with mortality rates averaging 10 per cent higher. For older Canadians, the danger is even greater. Plus, cold weather is associated with increased blood pressure, which in turn raises your risk of heart disease and stroke.

You can reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke by making healthy choices any time of the year – eating well, being physically active, managing your stress, limiting alcohol and being smoke free. But of course that can be especially difficult this season, with its whirl of social demands, temptations – and stress.

“Maintaining healthy habits through the holidays is a challenge, but it’s so important,” says Heart and Stroke Foundation registered dietitian Carol Dombrow. “With a little planning and mindfulness, you can find a healthy balance and still enjoy the season.”

These tips will help you have a healthier holiday.

Eat for balance

Sugary, high fat and high calorie temptations are everywhere. To keep up your energy and get all the nutrients you need, limit treats and choose foods from all four food groups. Follow Canada’s Food Guide and ensure that half your plate is vegetables, one quarter meat or alternatives such as beans, lentils or tofu, and one quarter grains such as rice or pasta. Add in a glass of milk or some yogurt and fruit.

Snack before parties 

Eating a protein-rich snack before a holiday party will help you stay fuller and say no to salty and sugary bites.

Keep indulgences small

With all the sweet treats on offer over the holidays, you can still enjoy your favourites by keeping portions small. Or try these better-for-you swaps to satisfy your sweet tooth.

Stay active

Regular physical activity boosts feel-good endorphins that help you manage stress. Winter sports like skating, tobogganing and skiing are a great way to make the most of the season. Prefer to stay warm? Consider indoor swimming or melt stress away with a yoga class.

Hit the snooze button

Shortchanging yourself on sleep can you leave you feeling cranky, raise blood pressure levels and even lead to overeating. Stay refreshed during the holidays by logging eight hours a night.

Shop smart

Head off stress by making a plan before you hit the stores. It will help you limit spending and avoid unnecessary backtracking. Skip the wrapping chaos by dropping off presents at a gift-wrapping station that donates proceeds to charity.

Sip smart

Whether you’re drinking a glass of wine or a cup of frothy eggnog, it’s easy to over-consume alcohol during the holidays. “Heavy drinking is a risk factor for high blood pressure and stroke,” says Dombrow. For men, limit alcohol intake to three drinks per day, to a weekly maximum of 15. Women should limit themselves to two drinks per day, to a weekly maximum of 10. One drink equals 12 ounces of beer, five ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of spirits. And remember that alcohol is also high in calories.

Leave it on the ground

Snow can transform the landscape into a sparkling wonderland. But it also plays a part in winter’s heavier toll from heart disease and stroke. Simply walking in wet, heavy snow can be strenuous. Shovelling or trying to push a car out of a snow bank can place a dangerous strain on the heart. Especially if you’re a senior, be cautious when moving around in snowy conditions

Ask for help

If you feel lonely or isolated during the holidays, seek out support from your friends, community, or place of worship. Take time to recognize and share your feelings with others.

Keep it real

Without a big budget movie crew, it’s almost impossible to create a picture-perfect holiday dinner. Give yourself a break. Perfect may be unreachable but enjoyable is well within your grasp if you set realistic goals for the season.