The holiday season is upon us, which means enjoying time with family and friends as the temperatures continue to dip. But this time of year, can also mean increased stress and food intake, adding to the many reasons why it’s an integral time to focus on your heart and physical health.

The combination of family functions, shopping, travel and indulgent foods are the recipe for a perfect storm within the body. During this season, metabolisms often slow down, we get less sunlight and people lose motivation to get up, get out or go to the gym for exercise. 

It’s hard to imagine, but did you know every winter, about 100 people in the U.S. pass away shoveling snow? Not to mention, that the day after Thanksgiving is one of busiest days in the hospital. This is because people who aren’t taking care of their heart and bodies fall victim to something as simple as the intake of too much food.

I share these facts with you, not to scare you, but instead to make sure you’re aware of the importance of handling stress and keeping a healthy heart over the holidays.

Exercise your Heart

The heart is a muscle. It’s different than your bicep, but it behaves just like your other muscles. When the heart is exercised, it demands more oxygen and gets stronger.

Heart activity, as long as it’s kept at the appropriate and safe intensity for the person doing the exercise, causes lactic acid and carbon dioxide to be released through the breath. This allows more oxygen to come in, setting the stage for good biochemistry. Deep breathing is also a great way to expel potentially harmful toxins like carbon dioxide. 

Exercise also shifts the body from the sympathetic (fight-or-flight) nervous system to the parasympathetic (rest-and-digest) nervous system. For people who are more prone to things like panic and anxiety, which are more prevalent this time of year, there is a mind and body shift when someone works out and experiences that strong exhale. Best of all, it can happen in a very quick time, in less than 20 minutes, which is powerful. 

How to Exercise Your Heart

When exercise reaches a certain intensity, the blood pressure starts to lower. This is because the body is expelling all the things that made it rise to begin with. The goal is to get your heartrate in a zone that works you at 60-80% of your max heart rate. The form of exercise can vary, from running to lifting heavy weights in a cardiovascular way. It all goes back to being in the proper heart rate zone.

At Fitness Together, we use heart monitors so clients know, on an intensity scale of one to ten, exactly where they stand. We also utilize breath patterns as a gauge to tell where a person is at from a heartrate standpoint. The idea is to be slightly of breath but still able to speak. We utilize Genetic Direction testing so people know what workouts are most effective for their unique body. The Genetic Direction testing involves a mouth swab and provides a breakdown for each person surrounding what exercise and nutrition works best for them.

For example, I have a low response to cardiovascular training for weight loss but high response for insulin sensitivity (blood sugar). So cardio, for me, helps lower my blood sugar but does not help as much when it comes to losing weight.

If you are dedicated to increasing your heart health this season here are a few simple ways to get started.

Quick Tips for Improving Heart Health over the Holidays

1. Find something you enjoy- During this busy holiday season, finding things you want to do for exercise is key to getting out and moving. It doesn’t always need to be in the gym. Maybe it is ice skating or taking a brisk walk outside.

2. Don’t let the holidays derail you- Don’t set impossible standards. If you want that pecan pie, be realistic and enjoy it. Use portion control vs. excluding it altogether. In the letting go, oftentimes you lose weight because there is a connection to the mind that you satisfied your craving.

3. Lean on the heart mind– The heart mind connects the mind and body. We often overlook the component in and of itself. If you have reached your four workouts for the week, take time to practice self-care. Enjoy a warm cup of tea and a bubble bath to reward your body.

4. Think slight edge– If you are driving toward change. The small changes, over time, can produce profound results. Think with the end goal in mind. One plate vs. two this Thanksgiving could be a small win.

5. Connect with family– you might be focused on what to eat or not to eat, or who in the family irritates you…but what if that person isn’t there next year? Social connections and family relationships are good for the heart in a different way.

6. Give a little-  This is a season of joy and gratitude. Giving back, whether it is time, supplies for the homeless or money, giving back is a great way to strengthen the heart.

The Takeaway

This holiday season, take some time to focus on your heart’s physical and emotional health. By following the above tips, you can pave the path to healthier and happier holidays.