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Here’s to Heart-Healthy Holidays

November 29, 2021

Could the rate of heart attacks spike during the winter holidays? Several studies have suggested that it does. The American Heart Association published a study showing that more people have heart attacks around the holidays, with a more serious outcome. Other research showed that more people die of a heart attack on Christmas Day than any other day of the year, followed by December 26 and New Year’s Day.

Most of these patients were already living with some type of heart disease, whether they were aware of it or not. “The progression of heart disease doesn’t happen overnight, so an uptick in cardiac death during the holidays is actually more the acute manifestations of the disease,” said Harvard Medical School professor Dr. Jorge Plutzky. “Factors like cold weather, stress and dietary indiscretion can contribute to a chain of events leading to more stress on the heart. A cardiac event might be triggered because the heart is working harder.”

Are those of us who live in warmer climates safer? Perhaps a bit, but a second study, this one conducted in New Zealand, showed a similar increase in heart attacks—even though Christmas happens in warm months there in the Southern Hemisphere. Overall, cold might be a factor, but so are overeating, overindulgence in alcohol, forgetting to take our medications, and stress.

Here’s how you can have a more heart healthy holiday season:

Watch your stress. Don’t overbook yourself. Instead, focus on gatherings, gift exchanges and other events that you enjoy and are meaningful to you. Ask others to help. Start planning well in advance to avoid a frantic last-minute rush.

Don’t neglect your wellness routine. With all the hustle and bustle of the season, it’s easy to forget to take our medications, to measure our blood pressure, to continue our regular exercise routine, and to follow the rest of our doctor’s recommendations. Taking a break like this can have a quick effect on heart conditions.

Avoid overindulging in holiday treats. During holiday gatherings, it’s hard to avoid fatty, heavy foods. Maybe you’re thinking, “Oh well, it’s just this once—after the holidays, I’ll go back to my healthy diet.” But cardiologists caution that even a single heavy meal can have an immediate effect, especially for people with certain heart conditions. Overeating can cause the stomach to expand, which shifts blood from heart to our digestive organs.

Drink alcohol only in moderation. While some studies suggest that moderate alcohol consumption might benefit the heart, drinking too much definitely does not. You might even experience “holiday heart syndrome,” which is a heart arrhythmia that, while it is usually temporary, can have longer-lasting effects.

Know your limits in the cold. If you’re going to be outdoors in cold weather, don’t overdo it. Taking part in winter sports or shoveling snow when you’re out of shape can lead to overexertion and hypothermia—both bad for the heart.

Learn the signs of a heart attack. If you or someone in your gathering were to experience a coronary event, prompt treatment could save their life. Some studies suggest that overcrowded hospitals may be a factor in a poorer outcome for heart attack patients at this time of year—so an early start could make a difference!

Continue to protect yourself from COVID-19. We now know that some people who recover from COVID-19 are experiencing long-term heart damage, and Johns Hopkins Medicine experts warn that the disease raises the risk of heart attack. Follow the advice of public health experts to avoid contracting the virus.

Happy Holidays to you & yours! Please call us to learn how our compassionate staff create an atmosphere that assist our guests stay healthy and active and live life well!