Thanksgiving is the season of delicious meals with family and remembering what you’re thankful for. Unfortunately, it’s also a time where trips to the ER rise and health issues surface. Hospitals report a 30% spike in ER visits on Thanksgiving, with many people experiencing shortness of breath, heart failure, and arrhythmias. Health issues can be severe at this time, so much so that heart-related deaths increase by 5% during the holiday season.
So why is Thanksgiving such a health hazard? Two words: stress and overeating. The anxiety that comes with travel and family reunions can be hard on the heart. Meanwhile, the fat, sugar, and sodium that make everyone’s favorite Thanksgiving meal so delicious are also bad for your heart. One Thanksgiving meal can contain as much as 2,000 milligrams of sodium—that’s the recommended intake for an entire day.
Don’t worry, it’s not the time to panic and give up Thanksgiving dinner just yet. Implementing a heart-healthy routine and taking care of your heart year-round means you can splurge on a turkey dinner and dessert while gathered with your family and friends. That means practicing simple healthy habits like moderate exercise, plenty of fruits and veggies, and avoiding smoking. If you haven’t been good to your heart this year, there are still steps you can take during Thanksgiving to protect it. In order to avoid a trip to the ER, use these five heart-healthy tips.
Eat your breakfast
Many people skip breakfast on Thanksgiving in order to save their appetites for dinner. Skipping breakfast has been linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, as well as high blood pressure and cholesterol. Binging on a large dinner later in the day can also lead to higher blood pressure. Be sure to eat breakfast every day, especially before a large Thanksgiving meal. Fruits and veggies are good for your heart, and you can keep your blood pressure in check with a healthy diet low in sodium and cholesterol. Choose heart-healthy foods like nuts, berries, oatmeal, or flax seeds for breakfast.
It’s important to stay hydrated during Thanksgiving. No, that doesn’t mean you can reach for the soda or the wine. Choose water instead. Not drinking enough water can spark feelings of false hunger that may cause you to overeat. Avoiding alcohol has also been shown to lower your risk of developing the heart rhythm disorder atrial fibrillation (AFib). Cut back your alcohol intake during Thanksgiving and keep it simple with a glass of water
Choose healthy options
If you’re worried about your heart health, skip the heavier dishes and choose recipes with less fat, sugar, and calories. A simple roast turkey that isn’t slathered in butter and gravy can actually be a healthy choice. Choosing light meat over dark meat makes it even healthier. Potatoes are a good source of potassium, fiber, and vitamin C, while sweet potatoes are especially nutritious. Choose potato recipes that skip the heavy butter, cream, or sugar. When in doubt, go with fruits and veggies. Fill your plate with side dishes like squash, green beans, cranberries, or brussels sprouts.
Your body loves exercise, and it’s healthy for you on so many levels. In addition to helping lower your blood pressure and lose weight, exercise can reduce the risk of stroke and heart disease. Just 30 minutes of moderate exercise per day has been shown to reduce the risk of stroke, heart attack, and heart failure. This includes a variety of physical activity, like walking to work, going to the gym, and even doing household chores. If your gym is closed on Thanksgiving, enjoy a walk with your family after dinner.
Identify and treat AFib
AFib is an abnormal heart rhythm that is a leading cause of stroke. Thirty-three and a half (33.5) million people worldwide have AFib, but many do not realize it, since it may go undetected. You can save time and money monitoring your heart health by using an FDA-cleared smartphone device that reads your heart rhythm in seconds, anytime, anywhere. In fact, you can even test your family and friends for AFib at the Thanksgiving dinner table, as this retired cardiologist does. If AFib is detected, you should send your mobile EKG results to a doctor who can provide further treatment if necessary (if you’ve been diagnosed with a heart condition, follow advice from your doctor).
As you’re sitting down to a delicious Thanksgiving dinner with friends or family this year, be thankful for your heart health. These healthy steps can be applied to Turkey Day and to your everyday life. Once you’ve digested the turkey, stuffing, and gravy, continue to take care of your heart with small lifestyle changes. Moderate exercise, eating healthy, and limiting alcohol can go a long way. Your heart will thank you!
Dave Albert, MD
David E. Albert, MD, an Oklahoma native, is a physician, inventor, and serial entrepreneur who has developed medical and other life-saving technologies and products over the last 30 years, turning a number of those innovations into tech startups. Today, he is a founder of three technology companies, InnovAlarm, Lifetone Technology, and AliveCor. His previous startups include Corazonix Corp (sold to Arrhythmia Research Technology) and Data Critical (sold to GE). Dr. Albert has 32 issued U.S. patents, a large number pending, and several new “secret inventions” in development. He has authored and co-authored over 50 scientific abstracts and publications, principally in the Cardiology literature. Dr. Albert graduated with Honors from Harvard College and from Duke University Medical School.