The Journal of the American Heart Association notes that heart-related deaths spike during Christmas. Researchers suggest that emotional stress, changes in diet and alcohol consumption, and accommodating to all the demands of the season (long to-do lists, visitors) play a role. In order to protect your heart, follow these tips to stay healthy this season:

• Maintain healthy habits. Even though our schedules change during the holidays because of travel and events, it is important to maintain regular healthy habits. For instance, eating healthy, balanced meals, moving more every day, and getting at least seven hours of sleep each night.

• Beware of party perils. Special holiday events mean extra helpings of not-so-healthy meals. Try eating a healthy snack, such as a salad or vegetable soup, before a party to avoid overindulging later. If you are hosting or bringing a dish, offer healthier options using American Heart Association recipes and cooking tips.

• Give yourself the gift of peace. It is OK to say “no” to invitations when you have too much going on. If you start to feel overwhelmed, recharge by doing something that relaxes you, such as yoga, meditation or going for a brisk walk.

• Make a plan for the New Year. When all the parties are over, the winter blues set in. Instead of feeling down, challenge yourself with realistic, sustainable goals for a healthy, happy New Year. Start a walking routine and sign up for the Central Maine Heart Walk.

Dervilla McCann, board of directors

American Heart Association/American Stroke Association

Central Maine Medical Center, Lewiston

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