The holiday season was and is a very exciting time in my life. As a child I looked forward to the all the holiday decorations appearing in stores, the thousands of twinkling lights and no matter where we lived, the chance there might be snow falling from the sky! My brother and I tried to be on our best behavior, went to bed on time, ate all of our vegetables and, come to think of it, practiced healthy habits without realizing it, all because we thought we may get that longed for gift.
But when I became a mother myself, the holiday season became more about hustle and bustle rather than remembering to eat my vegetables and get enough sleep. I stayed up too late making lists and checking them twice, forgot about my daily walks and ate meals on the go, often with disastrous results.
By the time my children were in grade school, I had gained about 40 pounds without even realizing it. And my stress level and blood pressure had risen to very unhealthy levels. I had a love/hate relationship with the scale and each holiday season came and went with a not so joyful effect on my body and mind.
Today I know that as a woman I’m at risk. Heart disease and stroke cause 1 in 3 deaths among women each year and that’s more than all cancers combined. But fortunately, I also know that women can change that because a full 80 percent of cardiac events can be prevented with education and lifestyle changes.
So as the holiday season approaches this year, I look forward to it as I have for the past few years and I remember that it doesn’t have to mean letting everything go.
In our family it has become a tradition to take a walk on Thanksgiving Day before the big meal. This gives us an opportunity to talk about the things we are grateful for and spend time together before we dig in. And because we know we won’t feel like moving around after we eat, walking before is the best way to get some physical activity in during that day of feasting.
Because the women in the family tend to do the lion’s share of the cooking and preparing, it’s more important for them to take time to exercise on those busy days. It’s good for the heart and the mind and encourages blood flow to both organs. So put the turkey or ham in the oven and take 30 minutes for yourself on those busy holiday mornings.
Holiday eating can be difficult but watching portions, standing away from buffet tables and watching too much alcohol consumption can help. If I know I’m attending a potluck party with nothing healthy, I’ll bring my own healthy snack.
For more ideas on how to stay healthy this season and beyond, log on to www.GoRedforWomen.org.
Beth Langefels has been the communications director for the Miami Valley and Northwest Ohio Divisions of the American Heart and American Stroke Associations since 2006.