Reasons for the seasonal increase are not well-known, but it is very important to be mindful of your heart health during this busy and potentially stressful time of the year. By taking some simple steps and paying close attention to the choices you make, you can significantly improve your heart health and steer clear of heart problems during the holidays as well as throughout the year.
1) Make healthy food choices – Eat heart healthy
- Embrace fresh fruits and vegetables! Place more of them on your plate instead of processed foods and red meat that may contain an excess amount of salt and bad fats. Excess salt or sodium in the diet can lead to high blood pressure and cause your body to retain water weight.
- Snack on unsalted nuts and seeds instead of holiday treats and baked goods. Nuts contain high amounts of mono-unsaturated fat and polyunsaturated fat as well as antioxidants. Good fats have omega-3 that can be found in tuna, salmon, trout or flaxseed, walnut, soybean, and canola oils.
- Remember to eat and drink in moderation. Alcohol can lead to high blood pressure and trigger an irregular heartbeat called atrial fibrillation. Prevent heartburn and avoid eating a large meal which is known to be one of the triggers for angina or discomfort that is felt when the heart does not get enough oxygen.
2) Manage your stress levels – Breathe deeply and make time for exercise
- Take a few moments to stretch, breathe in fresh oxygen to your heart and lungs, and clear your mind. Not only will this help you focus, it will lower your stress level, blood pressure, and heart rate.
- Put on your winter clothes and take a few minutes to go for a walk. Exercise is a great way to boost immunity especially during the winter season which also rings in the flu and cold season as well.
3) Do not ignore early warning signs of a heart attack. If you think you may be having a heart attack, call 911.
- Know that women and diabetics do not always get the same classic "Hollywood Heart Attack" symptoms. Heart attacks have beginnings that may include mild chest symptoms described as pressure, burning, aching or tightness. These symptoms may come and go until finally becoming constant and severe. Heart attacks may also present with the discomfort that spreads to other areas of the upper body, shortness of breath, shoulder and/or arm pain, nausea, heartburn, sweating, and extreme fatigue.
4) Reduce your risk of heart disease by learning about your personal risk factors for heart disease such as your blood pressure numbers, cholesterol numbers, and make sure to schedule a regular check-up with your doctor. El Camino Hospital offers a free online tool to help you understand your heart health and what you can do to improve it. At the end of the assessment, you will receive a printable report to discuss with your doctor. For a referral to a physician affiliated with El Camino Hospital, please call 800-216-5556.
This story first appeared in the December 2014 edition of the HealthPerks newsletter.