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Heart-healthy holiday tips

Are you worried about overindulging during the holidays? Between extravagant family dinners, office cookie exchanges and friends’ holiday parties, you may be concerned about the toll the season might take on your health and fitness goals.

Piedmont Heart cardiologist Jennifer McNear, M.D., encourages people to not allow their fears about overeating to monopolize what should be a fun time of year with friends and family. Dr. McNear said she encourages her patients and people in general to reduce or erase the anxiety related to holiday eating by following through on a few simple suggestions.

“Realistically, there’s only so much food you can eat in a day or during one holiday season,” she explained. “Unless you’re on a special diet or have a condition like heart failure in which fluid retention could be life-threatening, a limited period of overindulging will not permanently derail otherwise consistent health-conscious efforts. Once the holidays are over, just recommit.”

However, there are plenty of ways to make the season a little easier on your heart and the rest of your body. Dr. McNear suggested small steps you can take toward better holiday health.

Follow the one-plate rule

Going to a buffet dinner or party? Fill up your plate, but don’t head back for seconds, Dr. McNear said. You’ll be able to enjoy the food offered without overdoing it. Add some fresh vegetables and fresh fruit if they are offered.

“I encourage you to limit the foods that have no redeemable health value and are just empty calories,” she said. “The foods to eat in moderation are those that are mostly sugar and saturated fat.”

Choose wisely

Don’t feel like you have to try everything, Dr. McNear said. Pick your favorite foods and enjoy!

Don’t quit your exercise routine

Exercise can seem daunting when the weather is cold and the sun sets early, but there are ways to remain physically active even in winter. Try taking walking breaks during the workday, which can also give your mind a much-needed reprieve. Or, join a gym and move those daily walks or jogs from the pavement to the treadmill.

“The holidays are a wonderful time to exercise with your family,” Dr. McNear said. “Get out in the fresh air and take a walk with your loved ones.”

Dr. McNear recommended viewing your workout schedule as a calendar appointment – not something to dread or allow other responsibilities to take precedence over.

“Treat exercise like it’s business and non-negotiable,” she said. “Schedule the time on your calendar and only in rare occurrences should anything override your commitment to your health and wellness. Make it part of your daily routine, like brushing your teeth.”

Limit your alcohol consumption

Drinking alcohol in large quantities is harmful, and not just because of the hangover you’ll be left with the next morning. Too many cocktails can hurt your heart and impact your long-term health, so enjoy in moderation or stick with non-alcoholic options, Dr. McNear said.

Stay hydrated

Keep drinking water, Dr. McNear said. Among many benefits, adequate water consumption helps rid your body of waste, regulates your temperature and helps deter overeating by helping you feel full. While many health advisors recommend shooting for a higher goal, Dr. McNear said the traditional mindset of drinking at least eight, eight-ounce glasses of water a day is easy to remember and a reasonable goal, especially during a busy holiday season.

Control what you can control, and don’t worry about the rest

The holidays come just once a year, so enjoy yourself. Try to prepare healthy meals between feasts and take it easy on the alcohol, but don’t worry about the small stuff.

“Don’t ruin your holiday by stressing out about having a piece of red velvet cake,” Dr. McNear said. “Good health is all about moderation.”

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