Whether you have low or high blood pressure, this is the time of year when stress, diet, busy schedule and family obligations can have you feeling like a turkey in a pressure cooker.
Cardiologist Zehra Jaffery, M.D., who joined Northwest Community Healthcare December 1, offers these fantastic tips for maintaining healthy blood pressure levels during the holiday season.
Amidst the excitement of traveling and meeting with family and friends, don’t put off your medical appointments. Also make sure to refill all of your medications. Enjoy time spent with family and friends, but make sure you don’t get so busy that you skip medications. Planning ahead is key. Set daily alarms on your phone as reminders.
Whether traveling locally or abroad, empower yourself to keep your blood pressure goals in mind.
“Take your portable blood pressure machine along,” Dr. Jaffery suggests. “Your trip will be all the more fulfilling.”
While shopping, make sure you walk rather than using elevators or escalators.
“A 30- to 45-minute daily walk will add to heart health while lowering your blood pressure,” Dr. Jaffery says. “Dress warm to avoid exposure to cold temperatures as cold can raise blood pressure.”
If you feel stressed while shopping, take a break. Long lines and aggressive shoppers can result in a rise in blood pressure, which you want to avoid.
“The key is in recognizing that the environment is stressful and taking frequent breaks,” Dr. Jaffery notes.
As you take in the bright-colored lights this holiday season, remember to add a dash of color to your diet in the form of one cup of fruits and vegetables a day. This is a significant step toward a more vibrant life and lower blood pressure. If you have hypertension, avoid processed, prepackaged food as much as you can during the holidays. Such foods have a high quantity of sodium and can raise your blood pressure. Avoid eating anything that tastes salty.
Sugar and spice, everything nice
If you can, spice it up. A recent study showed that areas of the brain stimulated by salt and spice overlap. People who enjoy spicy food tend to eat food with less salt and hence had lower blood pressure, lowering their risk of heart attack and stroke.
Measured munches and meals
Be cautious of overeating and munching snacks excessively in social settings.
“It’s smarter to eat a short, high-fiber snack (like avocado) before heading out to shop or socialize,” Dr. Jaffery says. “ Overeating leads to weight gain and higher blood pressure.”
Exercise moderation by eating meals on small plates and opting for smaller portions. Pace yourself during eating. Eat slowly and chew your food well. This will give your stomach appropriate time for digestion as well as increase signals of fullness to your brain, resulting in feelings of satisfaction.
Smoking, drinking, OTC drugs
“Current recommendations for alcohol consumption are that adult men with elevated blood pressure or hypertension who currently consume alcohol should be advised to drink no more than two standard alcoholic drinks per day,” says Dr. Jaffery. “Women with elevated blood pressure or hypertension should limit their intake to one alcoholic drink per day.”
Dr. Jaffery also cautions, “Say no to smoking and keep everyone, especially children, away from second-hand smoke.”
When travelling or during family gatherings, be wary of any over-the-counter medications such as decongestants. These can raise your blood pressure.
Be aware that family gatherings can be a source of stress for all. Stress often can raise blood pressure. Steer clear of anger and negative emotions. Hence, feel free to say no to some gatherings. Reach out to folks you think will be lonely and volunteer to help homeless and those less fortunate, if you can. This is a great destressor.
“If you feel stressed, it’s OK to ask for help,” Dr. Jaffery adds. “During the upcoming holidays, be aware there will be change of daily schedules, increase in daily activity and lots of opportunities to overeat. This, combined with activities like shoveling snow, can be a recipe for a potential cardiac event. Monitor your blood pressure and take time out for quiet relaxation on a daily basis.”
Finally, if you don’t feel well this holiday season, seek help.
“The stakes are high, so give yourself and your family a gift this season,” Dr. Jaffery suggests. “Don’t postpone treatment because you don’t want to spoil the holidays.”
To schedule an appointment with Dr. Jaffery, call 847-618-2500.