The holiday season is upon us, which means enjoying time with family and friends as the temperatures continue to dip. But this time of year, can also mean increased stress and food intake, adding to the many reasons why it’s an integral time to focus on your heart and physical health.

The combination of family functions, shopping, travel and indulgent foods are the recipe for a perfect storm within the body. During this season, metabolisms often slow down, we get less sunlight and people lose motivation to get up, get out or go to the gym for exercise.

It’s hard to imagine, but did you know every winter, about 100 people in the U.S. pass away shoveling snow? Not to mention, that the day after Thanksgiving is one of busiest days in the hospital. This is because people who aren’t taking care of their heart and bodies fall victim to something as simple as the intake of too much food.

I share these facts with you, not to scare you, but instead to make sure you’re aware of the importance of handling stress and keeping a healthy heart over the holidays.

 Exercise your Heart

The heart is a muscle. It’s different than your bicep, but it behaves just like your other muscles. When the heart is exercised, it demands more oxygen and gets stronger.

Heart activity, as long as it’s kept at the appropriate and safe intensity for the person doing the exercise, causes lactic acid and carbon dioxide to be released through the breath. This allows more oxygen to come in, setting the stage for good biochemistry. Deep breathing is also a great way to expel potentially harmful toxins like carbon dioxide.

Exercise also shifts the body from the sympathetic (fight-or-flight) nervous system to the parasympathetic (rest-and-digest) nervous system. For people who are more prone to things like panic and anxiety, which are more prevalent this time of year, there is a mind and body shift when someone works out and experiences that strong exhale. Best of all, it can happen in a very quick time, in less than 20 minutes, which is powerful.

 How to Exercise Your Heart

When exercise reaches a certain intensity, the blood pressure starts to lower. This is because the body is expelling all the things that made it rise to begin with. The goal is to get your heartrate in a zone that works you at 60-80% of your max heart rate. The form of exercise can vary, from running to lifting heavy weights in a cardiovascular way. It all goes back to being in the proper heart rate zone.

At Fitness Together, we use heart monitors, so clients know, on an intensity scale of one to ten, exactly where they stand. We also utilize breath patterns as a gauge to tell where a person is at from a heartrate standpoint. The idea is to be slightly of breath but still able to speak. We utilize Genetic Direction testing, so people know what workouts are most effective for their unique body. The Genetic Direction testing involves a mouth swab and provides a breakdown for each person surrounding what exercise and nutrition works best for them.

For example, I have a low response to cardiovascular training for weight loss but high response for insulin sensitivity (blood sugar). So cardio, for me, helps lower my blood sugar but does not help as much when it comes to losing weight.

If you are dedicated to increasing your heart health this season, continue to read this article here for a few simple ways to get started.