The holidays are times to do things that touch the heart, such as spending unhurried time with family and friends. But watch out for the overall state of anxiety during this time period, which can harm your heart. The holiday heart syndrome is a real affliction in which the heart is more vulnerable to certain forms of arrhythmia.

Loni Novak, RN, cardiac nurse, says this condition could afflict even the healthiest of hearts during peak holiday season. Symptoms include palpitations, shortness of breath, dizziness and feeling faint.

One popular response to why this condition happens during the holiday, explains Novak, is the three Ss: stress, smoking and scotch.

“A frenetic schedule, tight budgets, family and friends pressure, all this can contribute to the release of the stress hormones which increase the heart rate. Late-night lattes, the extra scotch and social smoking can all adversely affect the heart,” she says.

In addition to the “stressor’s cocktail,” the holidays may entail doing things outside of our routine or comfort zone in weather that can be stressful to the body.  Novak advises to not do unfamiliar things when visiting people in other climates. Wait until your body adjusts to the new surroundings.

“Vasoconstriction caused by cold temperatures can trigger heart problems in people used to warmer climates. Heat, on the other hand, can cause peripheral vasodilatation that routes the blood away from the heart, which leads to lack of blow flow to this muscle,” says Novak.

Food strength

Whether you have any cardiovascular risk or not, controlling the three Ss is a no-brainer. However, there are many other things that you can do now to keep your ticker healthy and strong to fully enjoy this special season.

1. Substitute butter with olive oil: A study from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition shows that subjects limited lipid and insulin responses when eating a meal high in mono-saturated fats (olive oil) instead of a meal high in saturated fat (butter). Keeping an optimal fat and glucose metabolism is important to maintain a healthy cardiovascular system.

2. Cut back the salt: A typical high-salt meal (1494 mg sodium) suppressed the brachial artery flow-mediated dilation within 30 minutes. These results are similar to the response shown in healthy subjects after eating a high-fat meal, concludes a study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Beware that the most common sodium intake in our diet comes from processed food such as cookies, frozen meal, can soups, chips, prepared salads and sandwiches, among others.

3. Go green: Protect your ticker by drinking green tea. A study concludes that there is a significant association between the highest green tea consumption and reduced risk of coronary artery disease. An increase in green tea intake of 1 cup/day was associated with a 10 percent decrease in the risk of developing CAD. Black tea didn’t show this cardio-protective benefit.

4. Splash with cranberry juice: Grapes, cocoa and other flavonoid-containing foods have shown cardiovascular benefits. Now, it seems that cranberry juice may be added to the list to acutely reduce one of the relevant measures of arterial stiffness. To get such a great benefit, the subjects in the study drank a double strength cranberry juice (54 percent juice compared with the traditional 27 percent juice).

5. Check where the fat goes: The balance may show the same weight when you weigh in but in terms of heart health, where the fat deposits is more important. A study shows the greater level of total fatness, particularly trunk body fat, were adversely stored whereas peripheral lean mass was favorably associated with carotid and femoral stiffness. Do a combo routine mixing cardio and a full weight workout.

6. Add some good fat: The staggering increase in Omega-6 fatty acids, particularly soybean oil, has decreased the intake of cardio protective Omega-3 fatty acids (DHA, EPA and ALA). If adding salmon and flaxseed to your diet is a real quest, you may consider taking a supplement.

7. Intensity matters: More research is proving that higher intensity workouts have better cardiovascular benefits. Of course, always check with your doctor before starting a high-intensity workout program, but we now know people with higher VO2 max have less cardiovascular risk and also tend to get rid of visceral fat faster – the most dangerous type of fat in our body.

Marta Montenegro is an exercise physiologist, certified strength and conditioning, coach and master trainer who is an adjunct professor at Florida International University.  Marta has developed her own system of exercises used by professional athletes. Her personal website martamontenegro.com, combines fitness, nutrition and health  tips, exercise routines, recipes and the latest news to help you change your life but not your lifestyle. She was the founder of nationally awarded SOBeFiT magazine and the fitness DVD series Montenegro Method.

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Marta Montenegro is an exercise physiologist, certified strength and conditioning coach and master trainer, who teaches as an adjunct professor at Florida International University. Marta has developed her own system of exercises used by professional athletes. Her personal website, martamontenegro.com, combines fitness, nutrition and health tips, exercise routines, recipes and the latest news to help you change your life but not your lifestyle. She was the founder of nationally awarded SOBeFiT magazine and the fitness DVD series Montenegro Method.

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