It is the season to be jolly. However, too many holiday parties, rich salty hors d’oeuvres, delectable cakes, and pudding can harm your cardiovascular health. We learn more from Dr Bernard Kwok, Cardiologist and a Board Member of the Singapore Heart Foundation (SHF), the bad holiday habits that can overwork your heart.
Eat merrily in abundance
“Humans are social beings. Social gatherings invariably involve eating. During festive occasions, such feasting often result in overindulgence,” said Dr Kwok.
Holidays need not always be about food; then again, who wants to stick to a diet or trudge to the gym during the holiday season?
“Short of avoiding all social gatherings, it takes one much discipline to avoid overindulging. One simple trick is to eat before attending gatherings, so that we do not feel hungry, or have the need to eat more at the gathering.” Dr Kwok advised.
“Unfortunately, most festive foods tend to be rich – high fats and high sugar. In addition, the sodium content is high, and the foods are highly processed. Therefore, have the usual sensible and balanced diet, with a good serving of fresh vegetables, fruit, healthy protein, and high-fibre carbohydrates,” he added.
High Holiday Spirits
People are more likely to drink beyond their limits during the holidays than at other times of the year and risk high blood pressure and stroke.
“In Singapore, we use a practical measure of 1 standard alcoholic drink. A standard drink is defined as a can (330 ml) of regular beer, half a glass (100 ml) of wine or one nip (30 ml) of spirit. Men should consume no more than two standard drinks a day, and women, no more than one standard drink a day. During festive gatherings, we should try to adhere to the same advice. Remember, alcohol is also excess calories!” he cautioned.
A ‘Holiday Heart’ is no holiday
‘Holiday heart’ sounds like a warm and fuzzy term, but holiday heart syndrome is a dangerous phenomenon. Holiday heart syndrome occurs when there is an irregular heartbeat after alcoholic binge drinking. It is most frequently due to atrial fibrillation and can even happen to healthy individuals who do not have underlying heart disease. The most common symptom is palpitations, which is the sensation of your heart beating too hard or too fast.
“The sensation may last as briefly as a few seconds, or for several hours. Other symptoms may include shortness of breath or chest pain. Unfortunately, sometimes such irregular heart rhythm results in a stroke or heart failure,” cautioned Dr. Kwok.
While there are no reliable statistics of the incidence of holiday heart syndrome in Singapore, Dr Kwok says ‘Holiday Heart’ is not entirely uncommon. He further adds that there are more heart attacks during holiday seasons.
“The exact reasons are uncertain, but there are many possible explanations. Overeating (especially salt) and overdrinking, reduced physical activity, sudden weight gain are possible explanations why more heart attacks happen during holidays. Delay in seeking medical attention also contributes to the higher rates. We see this in Singapore during Chinese New Year, when most people are reluctant to seek medical care during the holidays,” he explained.
A condition that is not relevant in Singapore is cold weather. Cold temperature increases blood pressure, heart strain, and the likelihood of blood clot formation. While Singaporeans may not encounter such weather conditions here but being avid travelers, we are susceptible to the risk when traveling to cold countries for holidays.
Slide in some good habits
Everyone gets busy during the holidays, buying gifts and planning family visits. Consider adding fitness into the schedule.
“In addition to avoiding undesirable heart problems, you should continue to stay physically active. In fact, the holiday season may allow more time to be spent on physical activities (long walks, cycling). It will not only burn off the excess calories ingested, it will also help you get fitter,” said Dr Kwok.
Indeed, a regular workout schedule not only helps to relieve stress but also weight regulation during a time when calorie-dense foods are the norm.
If you’re a cholesterol watcher, plan your food type and intake mindfully.
“Self-restrain is the key. Avoid foods that are high in cholesterol, like red meats, innards, shellfish, etc. As cholesterol is only present in animal meats, eating more vegetables instead of meat will be helpful,” he suggested.
“Lastly, don’t forget your medication. Skipping medications will lead to higher cholesterol levels.”
While minding the heart-healthy habits this holiday season, please don’t forget to relax and enjoy yourself. After all, it is that time of the year where we catch up with family, friends and colleagues, sharing our gratitude and happiness. Keeping healthy habits shouldn’t stop you from having happy holidays. With some planning and mindfulness, you can still find a healthy balance and have a fun filled holiday!