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May 29, 2024

Holiday Heart Health: Tips to Protect Yourself This Season

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Written by AiBot

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Dec 22, 2023

The winter holidays are often filled with cheer, family gatherings, rich foods and drinks. However, this festive time of year also brings increased risks of heart attacks and other cardiac events. As we enter the final days before Christmas and New Year’s, it’s important to be aware of “holiday heart syndrome” and take steps to keep your ticker in top shape.

Holiday Spike in Heart Trouble

Research shows that heart attacks and cardiac deaths spike around the December holidays, especially Christmas and New Year’s. One study found a nearly 40% increase in heart attacks and a 60% jump in cardiac mortality in the two weeks starting on Christmas Eve.

This phenomenon has been dubbed “holiday heart syndrome.” The reasons for the uptick in heart issues are complex, but major contributing factors appear to be:

  • Stress – The holidays can be emotionally and mentally taxing for many people. Stress hormones like cortisol can damage blood vessels and raise heart attack risk.

  • Overindulgence – Heavy meals, salty snacks, sweet desserts and too much alcohol are common during the holidays. These can all place strain on the heart.

  • Skipped medications – People may forget to take their normal cardiac medications while traveling or on busy holiday schedules.

  • Delayed medical care – Some ignore or rationalize early heart attack symptoms to avoid “ruining” holiday celebrations. This delays treatment.

  • Cold weather – For those with underlying cardiac disease, cold temperatures can constrict blood vessels and raise blood pressure.

So while the holidays aim to spread cheer, they also create a kind of “perfect storm” for heart attacks in vulnerable people.

Who’s at Risk?

Certain individuals have higher odds for holiday heart attacks and issues:

  • Those with a personal or family history of cardiac disease
  • People with high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity or high cholesterol
  • Smokers and those with generally unhealthy lifestyles
  • Men over age 50 (though women aren’t immune)
  • Anyone struggling with high holiday stress levels

For these higher risk folks, taking preventative steps is critical.

6 Tips to Protect Your Heart

Here are evidence-based ways to help safeguard your heart health amid the holiday hustle:

1. Keep Taking Your Medications

If you take any cardiac medications, continue taking them as prescribed over the holidays. Don’t skip or adjust dosages – stay on your regimen. Set phone alerts if needed. Tell your doctor about any side effects.

2. Eat and Drink in Moderation

Allow yourself to indulge moderately without going overboard. Focus on veggies, fruits and lean proteins. Limit salt, sugars, refined carbs and unhealthy fats. Have just 1-2 alcoholic drinks per day max, if any. Stay hydrated with water.

3. Make Time to Destress

Don’t overpack your schedule. Set aside time every day for relaxing activities like light exercise, meditation, yoga, massages or nature walks. Say no to optional commitments if you feel overwhelmed.

4. Bundle Up in the Cold

Wear warm layers outdoors and set your indoor temperature to at least 65-70°F. Cold air can raise blood pressure and constrict arteries.

5. Don’t Ignore Warning Signs

Be alert for coronary warning signs like chest pain, shortness of breath, nausea and arm/jaw pain. Call 911 immediately if you experience these – don’t downplay or rationalize them. Quick treatment saves heart muscle and lives.

6. Get Some Activity

While the usual recommendation is 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week, even shorter spurts help. Take a few 10-15 minute walks on high-stress days. This boosts blood flow while providing mood/stress relief.

Protective Action Key Tips
Take Medications Stay on regimen; don’t adjust/skip doses
Eat/Drink in Moderation Focus on lean proteins, fruits, veggies; limit salt, sugar, alcohol
Destress Make time to relax; say no to optional commitments
Bundle Up Wear layers; keep indoor temperature 65-70°F
Don’t Ignore Warning Signs Be alert for chest pain, shortness of breath, etc.; call 911 immediately
Get Some Activity Take short 10-15 minute walks, especially on stressful days

Long Term: Develop Heart-Healthy Habits

While getting through the risky holiday weeks is critical for some, longer term lifestyle changes also matter:

  • Heart-healthy eating – Emphasize veggies, fruits, whole grains, lean proteins. Limit salt, sugar, refined carbs, unhealthy fats.
  • Regular exercise – Aim for 150 minutes per week of moderate activity like brisk walking.
  • Stress management – Try yoga, meditation, massage, counseling, nature time.
  • Restful sleep – Get 7-9 hours nightly.
  • Healthy weight – If overweight, lose excess pounds gradually.
  • Smoking cessation – Quit smoking with counseling/meds if needed.
  • Limit alcohol – No more than 1 drink daily for women, 2 for men.

Building heart-protective habits not only helps get you through the risky holiday period, but also pays dividends long term. Consult your doctor about specific diet, exercise and lifestyle tips catered to your personal cardiac risk profile.

The Outlook

The good news is the winter holiday heart risk, while real, is temporary. Taking sensible precautions can help you and your loved ones weather this stormy season and ring in 2024 safely. Listen to your body, respond promptly to any warning signs, and focus on self-care amid the hustle and bustle.

Here’s to a heart-healthy holiday season and New Year!

AiBot

AiBot

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AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.

By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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