It’s coming around to the holiday season and the time for everyone to relax and enjoy – right? The fact is that a lot of pressure comes with the holidays. And so health concerns, along with blood pressure, sky rocket for a lot of people. High blood pressure and Christmas can seem like a bad situation.
Could Christmas be bad for your health? Well it doesn’t have to be. Imagine a healthy and enjoyable Christmas and New Years. I sincerely believe it’s possible.
High blood pressure and Christmas – What to do!
The three big causes of high blood pressure and poor health in general are poor diet, lack of exercise and stress, tension or anxiety. All three of these factors can be exacerbated during the holiday season as we sit around the dinner table gorging ourselves on various mixtures of sugar and grease, too stuffed to move and getting annoyed with our relatives.
OK, that’s the worse case scenario 😉 It’s never usually that bad. But if we approach the holidays with a bit of forethought we can avoid the pitfalls and still have a really good time.
If we’re particularly discerning over how we handle the holiday period we can even make Christmas good for your blood pressure.
I’d even go as far as saying that a healthy Christmas could be happiest too.
Strategy 1: How survive Christmas with high blood pressure
So what to do? Live like a ascetic monk forgoing all the fleshy pleasures? Of course not. No need. Just try to strike a balance.
Enjoy Christmas dinner but don’t stuff yourself. Get some exercise before and after the meal. Strive for balance. You’ll feel better, more relaxed, and it’s less likely that that irritating cousin of yours will get under your nose and raise your blood pressure as usual.
Have a couple of drinks for New Year’s Eve. But if you knock ’em back till you’re comatose that’s less fun and really bad for your health. You’ll only start the New Year hung over and miserable. (I know because I’ve tried that strategy many times…)
Strive for balance. A balanced life is a happier life – and one where blood pressure stays within manageable limits.
Most importantly of all – stop worrying so much. Worrying never solved anything and simply put, it’s bad for your health. Worrying raises stress levels and blood pressure.
So the most important holiday message I have for you is – try not to get too stressed. Stress is the silent killer, not high blood pressure. High blood pressure is a symptom.
Strategy 2: How to make Christmas good for your blood pressure!
So the first strategy is just to keep an eye on yourself and stay within your limits. Don’t overeat and overdrink and keep a lid on your stress levels.
But if you want to make a wee bit more effort you can make the holiday period work for you in terms of potentially actually lowering your blood pressure. I say effort, but it’s not much effort really. It just involves being a bit more thoughtful and aware of your festive habits and taking a bit more care with how you go through your celebratory days.
Sounds boring, yes. But you can keep on top of the hectic highly social pressures of the holiday period by just taking yourself out for a short walk now and again throughout the day. A brisk walk before or after breakfast, mid afternoon, a short stroll after dinner will do wonders for your mental clarity and your health.
There are several benefits. Walking briskly will get your heart and lungs pumping which is directly good for your blood pressure. Exercise also helps dissipate stress hormones and stimulate happy hormones to be produced so it’ll keep you relaxed and in a good mood. Since stress is a big factor in high blood pressure, this is important. Lastly, it’ll help use up any sugar that’s flowing around in your bloodstream. Excess sugar is a major factor in high blood pressure for many people so you’ll do well to get rid of it before it builds up.
If you want to step it up a bit, try gently jogging or running. Or a spin round the block on a bike. Or just put some music on and dance around after dinner! Get everyone else moving too!
Fat. Sugar. Christmas is hardly healthy diet-wise for most people. But it doesn’t have to be like that.
Firstly, some types of fat aren’t as bad for you as you think.
For example, the bad press that red meat has got has been a bit unwarranted (saturated fat is not quite the devil it’s been made out to be). And while bacon, salami and processed meats contribute to raising blood pressure, a good steak is really not bad for you. Nor is a good roasted turkey.
Roasted vegetables are also fairly healthy. Roast in olive oil (or coconut oil) rather than sunflower oil or canola oil as it’s better for your heart and health. And add loads of herbs for more nutrients. Adding a bit of salt to your food isn’t necessarily a big deal, especially if you’re using natural sea salt rather than processed table salt. The real salt problem comes with hidden salt added to a lot of processed foods….
Processed foods really are the main issue.
Most of the fats you want to watch out for are mainly those found in processed foods. Look on the packet for trans fats – they should be listed on most labels. Basically you don’t want to be eating anything that has trans fats in it. This can include pizzas, pastries, cakes, doughnuts (sorry), and many take-out foods.
Processed foods are also often high in added sugars and salt – very bad for blood pressure and health in general. Even foods which don’t taste sweet or salty can have a fair bit of added sugars and salt. Watch out for condiments too. Make your own instead – they’ll taste better too.
So that’s the bad news.
The good news is that there are healthy snacks and sweet goodies.
Nuts and seeds are rich in very healthy fats so don’t be shy about eating loads of nuts. Just go for raw nuts, not roasted ones which have lost much of their goodness. And of course avoid salted ones!
Fruits and dried fruits are fine and contain helpful nutrients. If you’re making your own fruit cakes and christmas cake, try to use less sugar and/or replace sugar with natural alternatives like maple syrup or honey or applesauce. You can also fully or partially replace white flour with wholemeal flour which is much better for you. In strong-tasting cakes like fruit cake, this should work fine. In general, homemade treats and desserts will be better for you than ready-made ones since they’ll contain less weird artificial additives.
What else? Oh yes, that staple of christmas, at least in my house – chocolate. Ditch the white chocolate and even the milk chocolate and go for quality dark chocolate – at least 60% cocoa. It is very good for your blood pressure! And stimulates good-mood hormones to be produced in your brain 🙂
No, you don’t have to give up drinking. A little alcohol is actually good for your blood pressure (unless you’re an alcoholic in which case ignore this section)!
Red wine is known for being good for the heart and blood pressure, and it does have extra antioxidants in it which are helpful in this regard. However, a small amount of any alcohol has some benefits for the circulatory system.
Keep it to a couple of glasses per day or evening if you can, although the occasional over-indulgence shouldn’t do too much damage (although this is a question of scale!).
To make it easier, add other things to your drinks to make them last longer and have more health benefits. Berries are great for lowering blood pressure so chuck some into your wine and make a sangria. A bit of red grape juice will add more blood pressure-lowering antioxidants as well.
Or make mulled wine – with lots of spices and fruits. Most of the traditional ingredients have blood pressure benefits so this can be a good one. Go easy on the sugar – you really don’t need much if you’ve got plenty of fruits and spices.
Just avoid sugary alcopop type drinks. Also don’t use mixers like Coke, Pepsi, Irn Bru (if you’re Scottish) as they’re loaded with sugar and even the low-sugar ones have nasty chemicals. Not good for you or your blood pressure (or your teeth).
The Christmas holidays are of course supposed to be relaxing but for many of us they rarely are. Taking time out for walks now and then will help ease the social congestion. However there’s a lot more you can – quite easily – do to keep your stress levels down at this time of year.
If you’re already into things like yoga or tai chi then make sure to keep up your daily practice as much as possible. This can be difficult if you’re staying with relatives or have a houseful but try to make at least ten minutes for a shorter routine when you can.
One of the simplest and most powerful things you can do though is to breathe slowly. For about fifteen minutes. This is actually the fastest way to lower your blood pressure – no joke. Breathing slowly and steadily can lower your blood pressure almost instantly. The effect doesn’t last forever but if you keep doing slow breathing for a few minutes most days then the effects can build up.
It can be tricky to keep your breathing slow and steady when you’re not used to it though. However, to make it easier, I’ve made a set of audio tracks that guide you through it. You just breathe in and out in time with the breathing prompts. Super simple. Click here for sample tracks: guided slow breathing tracks
Last but not least – make sure to kick back and laugh! Seriously. Laughing is great for lowering blood pressure. A good belly laugh that is, not a polite chuckle. So put on some comedy shows, tell your rudest jokes, go out to see some stand-up, invite your funniest friends over for a good knees-up.
Christmas and beyond – lower your blood pressure and keep it low
If you’re want more ideas on ways to keep your blood pressure down this christmas and/or if you want to keep it low in the long-term, then check out our book:
The fact is, there are many many foods and drinks which can help lower your blood pressure. There are also many ways you can be more active with hugely beneficial effects. And there are myriad tried-and-tested stress reduction techniques which can help lower your blood pressure and help you have a happier life.
All of these are laid out clearly in the book, along with tips on how to easily incorporate these changes into your daily life. You can follow each step in the book at your own pace and thus lower your blood pressure substantially and effectively.
One of these stress reduction techniques is slow breathing, and when you buy the book you also get a full set of guided slow breathing audio tracks. As I mentioned above, slow breathing is the fastest way to lower your blood pressure, so practising with these every day will get you started in style!
Just click on the picture above for more details and/or to buy the book (and audio tracks).
And have a Happy Christmas!
NOTE: If you don’t celebrate Christmas, then all the best wishes with whatever festivities you celebrate. Life is to be enjoyed. Let’s all be happy and healthy 🙂