Six Tips to Protect Your Heart and Brain This Winter
The winter season is often a joyous time, associated with all the festivities of the holidays. Yet for many, the holiday enjoyment can do a number on the body – specifically on heart and brain health. Read on to learn how you can stay as healthy as possible this winter.
- Keep an eye on what you eat. Diet plays a role in your heart and brain health year-round, but during the winter we tend to forgo our normal routines and eat and drink things that we normally wouldn’t. Just because you’re eating different things, it doesn’t mean you can’t still make choices that are better for your brain and heart. For instance, eating a high-protein snack before attending a gathering can potentially help you resist the temptation to overeat. Drinking plenty of water is great for your brain (learn more about this and other ways to help your brain here) and will also help keep you hydrated if you are drinking alcohol. Knowing your triggers and staying mindful are also important during this time. Having an accountability partner, like a friend or a family member, who is also interested in staying healthy during the winter is a great way to stay motivated and can provide some emotional support to help keep the stress (and overeating!) at bay.
- Be aware of stress and plan ahead to reduce it. Between extra holiday spending, activities, travel, and social time, it’s not uncommon to feel stressed in the winter season. Chronic stress creates a hormonal imbalance that alters how neurons in the brain connect with each other. This can cause changes in cognitive function, including learning and memory ability (read more about stress and the brain here).Stress can also have an effect on your heart. Planning ahead is a good strategy to manage the additional responsibilities and commitments during this time. Developing and sticking to a budget and will help keep you on track financially. When it comes to travel and social time, be sure not to overbook yourself, and to set aside time for rest and relaxation to help keep the stress at bay. Keeping an eye on your diet and alcohol consumption and staying active during this time will also help manage stress. If you are feeling stressed, take a time-out to reflect and make adjustments.
- Don’t take on too much. It can be fun to go to gatherings and visit with friends and family and doing so can help reduce your stress levels. But there is a point when a jam-packed schedule can do more harm than good. Overbooking yourself can lead to feeling tired, stressed, and sometimes even a little resentful. Be sure to schedule in some downtime and don’t be too hard on yourself if you have to say no to something or even if you have to cancel. Listen to your body and understand that taking care of yourself is the first priority.
- Watch your alcohol intake. It’s no surprise the alcohol consumption increases during the winter. But if you’re not careful about controlling the amount you drink, your heart and brain can suffer. Alcohol can also impair your judgement (which can lead to overeating and other risky behaviors) and is associated with shrinkage in areas of the brain involved in cognition and learning. If you want to indulge in alcohol during the winter, set a limit for yourself and then switch to a “mocktail” or a sparkling water. Agreeing to be the designated driver is also a good excuse to respectfully pass on the drinking and a great way to ensure everyone gets home safe.
- Stay active physically. According to cardiologist Dr. Anne Thorson, the average person gains five pounds over the holidays, which is hard on the heart. Overindulgence is common during the winter season, and exercise is usually not the first priority on the list. But it’s actually more important than ever during the winter. Exercise can reduce stress and help counteract the impact of overdoing it on treats and alcohol. It’s also an excellent opportunity to meet a friend and get in some social interaction at the same time. Schedule a time to take a class, play a round of golf or tennis, or just meet up for a walk. Be sure to talk with your doctor to make sure you are healthy enough for exercise.
- Stay active socially. For those who don’t have family nearby, are unable to travel, or are not feeling their best, winter can feel very isolating. In a previous article, we discussed how important social interaction is for your health – both heart and brain (click here to read more). For those who tend to feel down during the winter, it’s important to stay involved in social activities. Check the schedules of your community center, senior center, or church, or try searching for local events on Facebook. Volunteering is also another great way to both help others in a time of need and keep you socially interactive.
Most importantly, take care of yourself first and listen to what your body is telling you. If you are experiencing any symptoms that are concerning you (especially if you recently underwent or are preparing for a heart procedure), be sure to consult your doctor.
- This is Your Brain on Alcohol. Available at: https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/this-is-your-brain-on-alcohol-2017071412000 Accessed Jan. 15, 2019.
- Holiday Tips for Heart Health. Available at: https://www.ucsfhealth.org/education/holiday_tips_for_heart_health/ Accessed Jan. 15, 2019.
This educational blog was provided by Boston Scientific. SH-610007-AA