Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Heart Health Tips for the Holidays

Beware of the office break room! Baskets of scrumptious treats, homemade cookies with sprinkles, fudge…mmm, fudge. Pick your treat, pick your vice, and celebrate in style. The problem is most of our intended “good eating habits” seem to just melt away when confronted with holiday temptations.

How do we avoid this fate? Is there a way to celebrate and be heart-healthy? Here are my tips for success:

1. Moderation is the answer. Instead of wholesale cuts, realize how to restrict quantities and frequency. Portion size, and as a result, our waist lines, have continued to drastically expand in this country. Don’t listen to Mom – you don’t have to finish everything on your plate. Reduce your meal sizes and the frequency of your indiscretions.

2. Avoid the Salt. This is essential for those with heart disease. Holiday meats and dinners are loaded with sodium which dramatically alters your body’s ability to control blood pressure. It also may lead to significant fluid retention, which can be life-threatening to those with heart failure. One serving of honey-baked ham has over 1 gram of sodium, and over 40% of your daily intake.

3. Is there a better New Year’s Resolution than to stop smoking? No more excuses. It will give you extra money for the holidays and save your life. Tobacco use is the #1 modifiable and preventable risk factor for heart attacks and death. Male smokers die an average of 13 years earlier than male non-smokers and female smokers die an average of 14 years earlier than non-smokers. Your physician can help with medicines and counseling, but you have to be invested and ready to quit.

4. Simple sugar. If you are diabetic, you know better. For everyone else, simple, processed sugars are a recipe for extra pounds and health problems. Seek balanced diets with whole grains and complex carbohydrates. I recommend Mediterranean-style diets for my patients with heart disease.

5. Make it a skinny. Don’t load up your coffee or smoothie. Use skim or non-fat milk and go tall versus venti. Smoothies seem healthy, but many are overloaded with calories. And come on….blended-coffee drinks are really just milkshakes…be honest with yourself.

6. The “holiday heart.” This is a known syndrome where binges of alcohol can trigger abnormal heart rhythms, including atrial fibrillation. Prolonged use can also lead to a cardiomyopathy (a form of weakened heart muscle and heart failure), cholesterol problems, high blood pressure, and other problems such as liver disease. However, don’t fret. Research suggests moderate consumption (1-2 drinks/day in males and 1 drink/day in women) is associated with reduced risk of heart attacks. But remember, one drink is 12 oz of beer or 4 oz of wine…not based on your cup size.

7. Dark chocolate. Not everything is bad. Dark chocolate has anti-oxidant properties and positive long term effects. It can lower blood pressure and is also associated with lower stroke and heart attack rates. This is pure dark chocolate (72% cocoa) – not chocolate covered everything else. Stick to one square a day, or one ounce maximum, and sorry diabetics, this treat is not for you.

8. Take a walk. Put on your rain jacket and start walking every day. Be realistic and start slow. Take walks every day for 20 minutes and increase your pace in coming weeks. Adequate exercise requires at least 20 minutes at your target heart rate and optimally 5 days per week. When you progress, you may be ready for the gym, but save your money for now.

The holidays can be wonderful, but be honest with yourself and set realistic goals and strategies. Your heart depends on it.

Dr. Kevin Thompson is an Interventional Cardiologist with Salem CardioVascular Associates, PC. He can be reached at 503-585-5585.