Study Break | For a healthier holiday season—eat well and remember to exercise | December 07, 2017
December 07, 2017
As we head into this festive season, we are faced with a variety of opportunities to enjoy delicious and enticing treats. While it’s a time to have fun surrounded by friends and family, it’s not necessarily a celebration of healthy eating. How do we maintain our good health when confronted with these tasty temptations? Fortunately, our colleague Dr. John Higgins, professor of cardiology, can help us navigate this tricky holiday path.
Dr. Higgins is chief of cardiology at Lyndon B. Johnson General Hospital and director of exercise physiology at Memorial Hermann’s Institute for Sports Medicine and Human Performance. He is also a sports cardiologist and works with the Houston Rockets and Rice Athletics. He received his medical degree from the University of Queensland, Australia; internal medicine residency at University of Missouri, Columbia; and cardiology fellowship at Brigham and Women’s Hospital-Harvard Medical School.
If you don’t know Dr. Higgins from the medical school, you may have seen him in the media. He has had nearly 600 media appearances, including CNN and ABC World News, speaking on such topics as screening young athletes’ hearts, energy drinks, smartphone apps and activity trackers, and ultramarathons. Having completed 13 marathons, you could say Dr. Higgins practices what he preaches.
Dr. Higgins recently shared his healthy eating advice with us for Study Break.
What are your best tricks for eating healthy during the holidays?
My latest article on this topic came out earlier this week in the Houston Chronicle. Some of my best tips include:
Use smaller plates and colorful plates — you will eat less.
Have a snack before the big meal — so you don’t go in starving and overeat!
Chew each item more and eat slowly and savor the flavor! The more you chew your food, the more satisfied you are, and the less you eat. I also advocate trying some healthy substitutions. For example:
• cup of natural almonds for 4 cups buttered popcorn (save 150 calories)
• cup of frozen yogurt for cup of ice cream (save 50 calories and 10g fat)
• white meat lean chicken/turkey (no skin) ~ 3 oz. for dark meat chicken/turkey leg with skin (save 100 calories/3.5 ounces ~ size of checkbook piece)
• mashed cauliflower for mashed potatoes (save 5g fat/cup)
• low-fat ice cream on fruit for a slice of pumpkin/apple pie (save ~ 150 calories/cup)
• glass of red/white wine/champagne/apple cider for eggnog (save ~ 200 calories)
What should we avoid?
Avoid binging on food, alcohol, or watching movies/TV -- break up the sessions with healthy activities.
Skip the second helpings right away. Save the second round for another meal later on.
Hide the salt shaker — too much sodium raises the blood pressure.
Speaking of blood pressure, tell us about the new American Heart Association (AHA) blood pressure guidelines. Should we be worried? Who is at risk?
The new AHA blood pressure guidelines are:
Normal: Less than 120/80 mm Hg;
Elevated: Systolic between 120-129 and diastolic less than 80;
Stage 1: Systolic between 130-139 or diastolic between 80-89;
Stage 2: Systolic at least 140 or diastolic at least 90 mm Hg.
Stage 1 & 2 should be treated with medications in most cases.
For those with elevated blood pressure, it’s time to eat less salt, to exercise, to lose weight, and to eat healthier—and to consult your physician.
An interesting article from the American Medical Association says that while the new guidelines will dramatically increase the number of those diagnosed with hypertension, those requiring a blood pressure medication will only rise about 2 percent.
How important is exercise?
Uber-important! I believe “exercise is medicine.” If it is difficult to do your usual workout due to travel or hosting friends, try some compact workouts like the “7-minute workout” by Wahoo (free app).
Alternatively, just go for a brisk 30-minute walk outside after the meal, play soccer, a game of tag, or do some piggy back rides. Go for a jog with some tunes, or get all your guests out for a walk around the block and see who can walk the most steps in a day (Fitbit = great holiday gift!). It you want some tips to increase those daily steps, see my Houston Chronicle article.
Dr. Higgins shared one of his favorite quotes, from A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh:
“Promise me you’ll always remember: You’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” — Christopher Robin to Winnie the Pooh
Thank you, Dr. Higgins, for sharing your expert advice with us.
Wishing everyone a healthy holiday season.
Distributed via email to all McGovern Medical School employees, students, residents, and postdoctoral fellows, Study Break is Dean Barbara J. Stoll's update of news and items of interest. She welcomes feedback via email.