The holiday months aren’t exactly the perfect time to focus on your health. Almost everyone is overindulging. Even Santa Claus’ belly tells us that he is eating too much and exercising too little.

If you have hypertension, the holidays are no excuse to ignore your healthy habits. Taking a break during November and December could potentially cause serious damage to your heart and blood vessels.

Keeping your cardiovascular system healthy doesn’t have to be difficult. Here are three ways to focus your efforts.

1. Diet

The holiday season is full of special foods and treats—deep-fried Thanksgiving turkeys, Christmas hams basted with honey, sweet potatoes swimming in marshmallow goo, and all of the other fabulous dishes that cover the table.

For healthy individuals, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggests a maximum sodium intake of 2,300 milligrams per day. But, people with high blood pressure should limit themselves to 1,500 milligrams of salt each day.

In order to stick to those guidelines during holiday meals, beware of these favorites that pack a huge punch of sodium.

  • Ham: up to 500 milligrams per serving
  • Gravy: up to 650 milligrams per serving
  • Shrimp: up to 480 milligrams per serving
  • Stuffing: up to 430 milligrams per serving
  • Dinner roll: up to 218 milligrams per roll

Be careful to watch your alcohol intake, too. Binge drinking (more than six drinks in one sitting) can raise your blood pressure more than 20 points, putting you at serious risk for a heart attack or stroke. Doctors recommend sticking to two drinks or less per day.

2. Stress

The American Heart Association reports that stress and anxiety don’t directly cause high blood pressure, but those feelings can lead to behaviors that are far from heart-healthy. Many individuals cope with stress by drinking, smoking, and overeating. It’s those habits that can elevate your blood pressure.

Taking the stress out of the holidays is no easy task. But, if you’re mindful of your stress level, these tips may help you deal with stress in a healthier way.

  • Let yourself say “no” to some holiday invitations and requests. Over scheduling can make you a Grinch!
  • Make a holiday budget and stick to it. This way, you can eliminate financial stress and be better prepared for the new year. Plus, you’ll be able to minimize the time you spend swamped by the crowds of shoppers.
  • Be charitable. A 2008 study showed that individuals who spend money on other people are happier than those who keep the money for themselves. There are plenty of holiday giving opportunities at home and overseas. Of course, you can also volunteer your time for a local charity.

3. Smoking

Most individuals with hypertension are aware of the risks of smoking. But, if you’ve recently cut back or quit smoking, the holidays can be a very tempting time to return to your old habits.

What are your triggers? Drinking, social gatherings, or stress? Know your triggers and make a plan to avoid the most prevalent smoking temptations.

  • If you’re at a holiday party, keep a plate full of veggies nearby to occupy your hands and your mouth.
  • Don’t over indulge in alcohol.
  • If you use a nicotine replacement therapy, make sure you’re stocked and ready to go for the holiday season.
  • Before you head off to the party, practice saying “no”. Envision yourself turning down a cigarette and taking a few deep breaths to calm the craving.

If you’re looking for extra tips on how to handle hypertension during the holidays, don’t be shy about contacting your doctor. Your medical team may suggest more frequent blood pressure checks or an office visit to discuss your treatment plan.

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