Show Your Heart Some Love This Holiday Season

By Beth O’Keefe, Care Coordinator with the not-for-profit VNSNY CHOICE Health Plans

Family serving Christmas dinner

This holiday season, Americans all over the country will be exchanging delicious high caloric plates loaded with carbohydrates and digging in to taste wonderful pies and pastries. The holidays are a great time to celebrate being with family and friends, but can also be a good time to show ourselves some love by focusing on our own health and healthy living.

In my role as a registered nurse and care coordinator for VNSNY CHOICE Health plans in upstate New York, I work closely with people who have community based long term care needs, many of whom are frail and elderly with multiple chronic illnesses. My colleagues and I develop personalized care plans that address the needs of each individual, with the goal of helping them live safely and as independently as possible in the least restrictive setting – preferably in their own home.

During the winter months, my colleagues and I address and emphasize the safety and security of our members by educating them and their families or caregivers about the importance of winter safety measures such as having enough food, water, and medicine in the home should roads become impassable. Our check list also includes having flashlights and extra batteries in case of power outages, which happen frequently in rural areas.

Just as my colleagues and I are addressing these “winter safety measures” with the population that we serve, now is also a good time for all of us to address our own health – with a set of “winter health suggestions” which are especially appropriate in this holiday season!

Here are a few tips to help you have a heartwarming holiday season—while caring for yourself and those you are caring for:

Stay Sweet without the Sugar

It almost seems impossible to stay away from sugar during the holidays but did you know that reducing added sugars actually reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease? You can sweeten up baked goods with healthier sugar alternatives like fruit juice, Truvia and agave nectar. You can also add spices like vanilla extract, nutmeg and cinnamon which are all low on the glycemic index. This will add flavor to your favorite holiday dessert without spiking blood sugar. Overindulging is rarely the right choice, but we do recognize that the holidays can be a time of a little “over-abundance.” Do your best to celebrate in moderation and be sure to make a toast to good heart health and well-being before the New Year!

A Happy Heart Is A Healthy Heart

Whether you celebrate Christmas, the Chinese New Year, Hannukah, Kwanza, Winter Solstice – or just the end of the year – the holiday season is all about feeling and giving love and gratitude. Research has shown that happiness is linked to a lower risk of heart disease and stroke- so do things that make you happy this holiday and surround yourself with people that make you smile and feel happy – your spouse, children, grandchildren, friends, and even pets. Do things to make the people around you happy as well.

By giving happiness, we ourselves gain happiness. If you know someone who is homebound or alone, a great way to share love and caring is to invite them to share a holiday meal with you, or if that isn’t possible, stop by and visit with them –call them or send a card. You would be amazed at how a small action on your part can warm another person’s heart – and truly build happy hearts for both of you!

Get Your Heart Pumping

One of the top risk factors for heart disease is an inactive lifestyle. For many of us, this becomes a reality during the winter when it’s freezing outside! Take advantage of the warmer than normal temperatures we have been having thus far this winter. If you are like me – and don’t like the freezing cold weather – enjoy the outdoors before it turns frigid! When the weather does turn cold, remember to dress appropriately and limit your time outside accordingly to the weather‘s conditions.

Some suggestions of ways to build exercise into our daily lives during the winter include: parking at the far end of the grocery store parking lot, walking to the mailbox, getting on the treadmill, walking loops inside your home, office or apartment buildings, getting off or on the bus one stop further away from where you need to, taking your dogs for walks, and taking advantage of milder days to do outside activities.

Individuals with limited mobility such as those who are homebound or functionally impaired, have failing vision, respiratory or cognitive conditions, can find it a real challenge to exercise at any time of the year. It’s important to build both physical and social activities into our lives to show our hearts love, not just during this holiday season, but throughout the year.

For more information about VNSNY CHOICE, call 1-855-282-4642 or visit