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Steering heart wellness through the holiday season

Published:Wednesday | November 29, 2023 | 12:08 AM

While the holidays alone cannot directly trigger a heart attack, it’s important to recognise that specific behaviours and overall busyness of the festive season can significantly impact our heart health.

Numerous studies over the years have indicated a notable increase in heart attacks and other cardiac events, such as holiday heart syndrome and congestive heart failure flare-ups, particularly beginning around Thanksgiving.

Cardiac-related deaths are almost five per cent higher this time of year, according to the American Heart Association (AHA).

Dr Rivane Chybar-Virgo shared that preparing for the holidays demands a lot of time and effort in addition to our normal routine. Many people are fatigued before the party even begins because so much needs to get done. It is easy to lose sight of self-care and turn to unhealthy behaviours that can make us vulnerable.

Common triggers of cardiac complications include stress and overexertion, indulging in rich salty foods, consuming too much alcohol and delaying medical care.

“The heart serves as a constant reminder of life’s vitality, pumping blood, oxygen, and nutrients throughout our bodies. While the heart functions effortlessly without our conscious thought, it is susceptible to diseases and damage that can arise from not taking care of it,” Dr Chybar Virgo said.

Damage result from an unhealthy diet, insufficient sleep, inadequate exercise, excessive stress, and heavy smoking. Heart diseases encompass a range of conditions, from the heart’s inability to function correctly, as observed in heart failure, to irregular heartbeats (arrhythmia) and compromised blood flow. These conditions can lead to severe consequences, including heart attacks or strokes. These conditions can significantly impact the quality of life and in severe cases, result in mortality. Here are some strategies to promote optimal heart function:

Energise your heart

Engaging in regular physical activity is a key component of maintaining a healthy heart. Whether it’s running, dancing, or playing sports, activities that get your blood pumping help blood vessels relax and widen, promoting better blood flow. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week. Starting small with short walks can be a stepping stone toward a more active lifestyle. Consult with a personal physician for individualised guidance.

Include a balance diet

A balanced diet plays a crucial role in supporting the continuous work of the heart. The heart relies on energy from the food we eat and a spectrum of nutrients to stay healthy. Superfoods for heart health include those rich in omega-3 fatty acids, fibre, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and coenzyme Q10. Consuming a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, protein, and sources of healthy fats-such as fatty fish like tuna and mackerel, nuts, seeds, and soy beans, can help you meet your daily recommended amount for heart health.

Healthy weight

Maintaining a healthy weight is instrumental in lowering the risk of heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure. Excess belly fat can impede good blood flow and increase the risk of heart diseases, emphasizing the importance of achieving and maintaining a healthy weight through a combination of balanced nutrition, regular physical activity, and stress management.

Know your numbers, know your risk

Regular health checks are essential for understanding and managing heart health risks. Conditions like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and elevated blood sugar can significantly impact the heart. Monitoring and addressing these factors through collaboration with healthcare professionals can empower you to make informed decisions for your heart health.

Cut down on unhealthy living habits

Smoking poses a serious threat to heart health, causing damage to the heart and blood vessels. Quitting smoking is a powerful step towards supporting the heart. Seeking help through smoking cessation programmes can make this journey more manageable.

Less stress, more self-care

In our fast-paced world, managing stress may seem like an uphill battle. However, effective stress management is crucial for maintaining heart health. Stress also tends to trigger unhealthy habits such as smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, overeating, and reduced exercise. Self-care extends beyond spa days or vacations; it involves integrating stress reduction into daily life. Strategies can include dedicating a few minutes each day to activities like deep breathing, meditation, journalling, or enjoying music. Engaging in activities like gardening, applying a face mask, or having a quick dance can also provide swift stress relief.

In the pursuit of a happy, healthy heart, your decisions make a big difference. By adopting these strategies, you can actively contribute to the well-being of your heart.

SOURCE: Dr Rivane Chybar-Virgo; Health Talk Sundays