This is exactly as it should be and we absolutely should take advantage of the extra time to spend with family and/or friends. The only trouble is that often our health takes a back seat during December and at least in Australia, throughout January too as many take an extended break until after Australia Day or when the kids go back to school.
Having a short break from your exercise and relaxing the reins on your food intake is fine for a week or so, but if that continues for the best part of two months your health is going to suffer, leaving you feeling lethargic, bloated and pretty horrible come February.
For anyone with an existing cardiovascular problem, including those undiagnosed and in the dark about their condition, this can be downright dangerous. So how can we enjoy the festivities over the coming weeks, while looking after our heart and cardiovascular system at the same time?
Avoid tobacco smoke
In Australia we’ve done really well in getting smoking rates down. The latest statistics show that for those 15 years old or older only 17% of men and boys smoke daily and 13% of women and girls. About a third of our menfolk have given up and a quarter of our women.
This is all great news for our health, but we mustn’t get complacent and there is room for improvement. If you are still smoking, or if you are a ‘social smoker’, meaning you may not smoke every day but fall into the trap of a cigarette with a drink or when others around you are smoking, then you are damaging your heart and blood vessels with every puff.
For everyone else the risk comes from second hand smoke. While today we are protected from smoking in public places, the same is not true at private social gatherings.
All smoke is harmful and increases the risk of a heart attack. Avoid being around people who smoke, and if you’re a daily or social smoker make quitting your new year resolution for 2017. There are numerous programs to help you to do so including iCanQuit from the Cancer Institute NSW. Seek help and you can do it.
"If you are still smoking, or if you are a ‘social smoker’, meaning you may not smoke every day but fall into the trap of a cigarette with a drink or when others around you are smoking, then you are damaging your heart and blood vessels with every puff."
Be physically active
Regular physical activity is essential for a healthy cardiovascular system. If you have some time off in the coming weeks, use some of it to build new healthy activity habits. Set yourself a physical activity goal or two for the holidays and take advantage of having the time to commit to it. A few weeks of a new active routine can be just enough to make it a habit so that come 2017 when you’re back to your normal life you stand a very good chance of being able to keep it up.
"Set yourself a physical activity goal or two for the holidays and take advantage of having the time to commit to it."
Your goal might be as simple as going for a brisk walk every day. It is helpful to set yourself a goal of either time, distance or steps taken. This is easy to measure if you have an activity tracker such as a FitBit, but you can also use a number of free Applications on your smart phone. Put a number onto the walk and you’ll be much more likely to complete it and perhaps try to beat it next time.
Alternatively, you might like to try a new activity. Ask a family member to buy you a trial gym membership for Christmas or a couple of sessions with a personal trainer. Try a yoga or a dance class. If you’re by the ocean have a shot at paddle boarding, kayaking or wind surfing. Or for a brilliant leg workout walk or run on the soft sand.
Eat a plant-rich diet
What you eat is important for the health of every organ in your body, including your heart. There are many versions of a healthy diet and there is no one size fits all. What is clear however is that eating loads of plant food, whether or not you also choose to eat animal foods, is best for our health.
The reason for this seems to be the variety of nutrients and phytochemicals plant foods supply. Plant foods provide vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and other beneficial compounds that help protect our cells from damage including the cells lining the blood vessels.
"There are many versions of a healthy diet and there is no one size fits all. What is clear however is that eating loads of plant food, whether or not you also choose to eat animal foods, is best for our health."
Plant foods are also the foods that give us fibre and lots of different types of fibre. We tend to think of fibre as one thing, but in fact it is a broad and varied group of substances that we cannot digest with our own enzymes.
Collectively fibres play roles in slowing down the digestion and absorption of carbohydrates, thereby helping to control blood sugar levels, reducing blood cholesterol levels, maintaining bowel regularity, binding toxins in the gut and carrying them out the body, and fuelling the growth of good gut bacteria. This is important not just for gut health, but also boosts overall immune function. So all up, fibre has wide ranging effects for health.
Most Australians are not eating enough plant food and not getting enough fibre. Think about your food choices at a summer BBQ. Do you go for the burger, sausage or steak and skip the salad? Or perhaps have a token piece of lettuce and slice of tomato in your burger bun? The tomato sauce doesn’t count!
Your goal is to eat at least 5 serves of veggies, 2 pieces of fruit, 3 serves of wholegrains and a handful of nuts every day. Then include legumes (beans, chickpeas or lentils) at least twice a week.
"Collectively fibres play roles in slowing down the digestion and absorption of carbohydrates, thereby helping to control blood sugar levels, reducing blood cholesterol levels, maintaining bowel regularity, binding toxins in the gut and carrying them out the body, and fuelling the growth of good gut bacteria."
You can also add a fibre supplement to your day and here I would choose one specific to your needs. BetaHeart is a product I have been working with as it is a particular type of fibre (beta-glucan) that has been extensively studied for its effect on blood cholesterol levels. You’ll find it naturally in oats and barley, but you need to eat a lot of the whole foods to get the minimum 3g of beta-glucan clinically shown to reduce LDL cholesterol. Taking the supplement makes this easy as all you need do is take one sachet a day.
Watch this video from me to find out more about foods for heart health and BetaHeart.
Finally enjoy your holiday time with loved ones. Social connections and support are in fact just as important for your heart and overall health as your diet and lifestyle. Relax, unwind, connect and find joy in everyday life. Put it all together to build your healthiest life and keep it up into 2017.
February 04, 2020
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