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Heart healthy holidays

  • Category: General, Cardiology
  • Posted On:
  • Written By: Boulder Community Health
Heart healthy holidays

Let’s have a heart to heart

The holidays mark a critical time for heart patients and anyone with problems with heart valves, heart rhythms or arrhythmias, or heart muscle function.

“The busiest day in my over 30-year career is the day after Thanksgiving,” says Boulder Heart cardiologist Nelson Trujillo, MD. “I think one time I spent 18 hours in our heart Cath Lab post-Thanksgiving Day. We tend to overeat and some of the food we make brings comfort in that instant but is not good for you.”

While the holidays are a wonderful time to get together with friends and family to express gratitude, they also lead to some unhealthy behaviors – like additional salt in food, bigger meal portions, extra stress, less exercise, and overindulgence in alcohol.

“As a heart rhythm subspecialist, the biggest thing that I see is a lot of atrial fibrillation. ‘Holiday Heart Syndrome’ is one of the many names for it and can certainly be triggered by alcohol and a diet heavy in salt,” says Boulder Heart electrophysiologist Maria Anderson, MD.

“Extra salt increases the fluid in our bodies, which puts extra pressure on our heart chambers and can stretch them out a bit. Then, instead of the the upper chambers of the heart beating in a nice relaxed, orderly way, they can freak out and start shaking and making the heart go fast. You can then get chest discomfort and feel quite short of breath, needing to come into the hospital.”

The holidays also signal hospital readmissions for heart failure patients.

“For heart failure, the heart can’t keep up with the body’s needs,” Dr. Anderson says. “Often, the heart is a little weak, and then it’s put under the strain of alcohol and salt, and it just can’t keep up. Other times, the heart could be a little stiffer or thicker and can’t relax easily. It’s almost a metaphor for how we are in lifestyle and culture today: too much activity and not enough relaxation.”

Dr. Trujillo says some of the symptoms of heart failure include fast heart rate, dizziness, shortness of breath where you cannot lay down or catch your breath with minimal activity, and chest discomfort or pain.

Drs. Trujillo and Anderson advise their patients to start new traditions during the holidays to stay out of the hospital and their cardiology offices.

Dr. Anderson - who is board certified in Lifestyle Medicine – is passionate about evidence-based lifestyle choices to maintain or improve overall health. When she is not seeing patients, she is usually cooking or teaching cooking. Some of her favorite recipes are the ones she prepares for her family during the holidays: spiced sweet potatoes, pumpkin pie with date crust, no-crust pumpkin pie, mushroom gravy, mashed potatoes and celery root, and butternut squash soup. Discover Dr. Anderson’s recipes here.

In addition to some healthy food substitutions, Dr. Trujillo reveals exercise like walking or participating in a Turkey Trot are a terrific way to create new movement-based traditions and avoid the pitfalls before the big meal.

“Walk, jog or run - whatever you feel up to. It’s a fun way to be together,” says Dr. Trujillo.