Managing blood pressure can be difficult, especially during the holidays and winter months. A change in routine, family visits, traveling, illness, holiday menus and financial concerns can all conspire to derail your best efforts at keeping chronic conditions, like high blood pressure, under control.

“Carving out some time in your busy schedule for yourself to relax or incorporate exercise will help manage your stress with all the holiday bustle,’ Outpatient Dietician Wilma Malone, RD, LD, CDE, said.

“A simple and yet effective step you can take in maintaining your health is to take 60 seconds out of your day and press the pause button,” Clinical Educator Julie Heitman, Newman Regional Health, said. “For many of us, this still may be a challenge, but taking time to pause, to be still and breathe has been shown to reduce stress and allow us to refocus.

“During this time you may remember to take the blood pressure medication you forgot as you hurried to get ready for work. Or make that follow-up appointment with your provider to discuss if you are experiencing more than just the ‘winter blues.’ Taking time, even if it’s just 60 seconds, will make a positive short and long-term difference in your life. The clock is ticking … start your 60 seconds today!”

If you are one of the millions of American adults with high blood pressure, it is vital to keep your blood pressure stable. Drastic changes can put you at risk for heart attack or stroke.

Here are three ways to control your blood pressure throughout the holiday season from the American Heart Association:

Be Wary of Decongestants

Decongestants are in many over-the-counter cold and flu medications but they have some harmful side effects. They can raise blood pressure and decrease the effectiveness of some prescribed blood pressure medications. It’s best to use them for the shortest duration possible and avoid in severe or uncontrolled hypertension. Consider alternative therapies, such as nasal saline, intranasal corticosteroids or antihistamines, as appropriate.

Keep Track of Medication

The winter months tend to bring an increase in both heart attacks and strokes. According to research from the Journal of the American Heart Association, a 4.2 percent increase in heart-related deaths occurs away from a hospital from Dec. 25 - Jan. 7.

“Factors like cold weather, sudden increase in activity like shoveling snow, stress and dietary indiscretion can contribute to a chain of events leading to more stress on the heart during the winter months, potentially triggering a heart attack or other cardiac event,” said Jorge Plutzky, M.D., director of Preventive Cardiology at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital and a volunteer with the American Heart Association.

“Try to stay away from high salt foods or adding a lot of salt to your food, too much alcohol, and foods high in fat,” Lisa Bullock, director of ICU and 3rd Floor at Newman Regional Health, said. “Often we see increased admissions of Congestive Heart Failure patients around holiday times because of the urge to over-indulge in salty foods. It is so unfortunate to see this because we would much rather our patients be home with their family during the holiday.”

It is vital to keep track of your medication and take it as prescribed by your doctor to decrease chances of heart attack and stroke. The American Heart Association’s Check Change Control Tracker is one way to monitor your health, as it allows you to set up text message reminders, text in blood pressure readings, connect with volunteers or providers, and receive messages from volunteers or providers.

“Utilizing a pill box or app on your phone as a reminder to take your medications can alleviate a missed dose,” Malone said.

Maintain Healthy Eating Habits

The holidays can be a bad influence on healthy eating habits. However, it is important to stay active during these times and continue eating healthy. While you are enjoying holiday feasts with family, be aware of sodium, often found in seasonal foods like bread, cheeses and prepared meats, which can increase blood pressure. Don’t feel like you can’t indulge a little, but make sure to incorporate healthy meals.

“Plan ahead a few simple meals to prepare each week including vegetables and lean protein to help you stay on track with your eating plan,” Malone said.

Staying active while traveling can be a challenge, as well. Try bringing simple exercise equipment like a jump rope or resistance band with you. Consider walking to sights or restaurants nearby, or finding a local park or indoor walking path.

For more information and tools about blood pressure management, visit heart.org/hbp or www.newmanrh.org.

—Bayer’s Consumer Health Division, maker of Coricidin HBP, is a sponsor of the American Heart Association’s High Blood Pressure website.

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