Holiday Risk

How to Reduce Your Risk for a Holiday Heart Attack

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Holiday Risk

holiday risk

Heart disease is the number one killer of older Americans, and according to the American Heart Association there’s a direct link between the winter holidays and increased instances of heart attacks. Whether it's a Christmas coronary or Hanukkah heart attack, extensive research shows that heart trouble truly is an American holiday tradition. In fact, there are more heart attacks on Dec. 25 than any other day of the year, followed by the Dec. 26 and Jan. 1. Reduce your chances of an ill-timed visit to the emergency room with these heart-healthy holiday tips.

Don’t Eat Everything

don’t eat everything

The first one is obvious — try not to overindulge at the dinner table. It's no secret that the holidays have long been synonymous with belt loosening in the wake of massive portions of rich, meaty, gravy-strewn comfort foods — and don't forget about all those sweets. During the holidays, you're likely going to be surrounded by food. Indulge, but take the advice of the Cleveland Clinic and try not to overdo it, particularly with foods that are heavy in cream, salt, and sugar.

Curtail The Booze

curtail the booze

No one knows for sure why alcohol plays a role in the holiday heart phenomenon, but it can — at least for those who drink excessively. Binge drinking, which is far more prevalent during the holidays, can have an impact on your heart. Consider moderation, particularly if you're not a regular drinker.

Stay Hydrated

stay hydrated

At bedtime, you may not want to drink a big glass of water — but even if you have to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, it might be worth it. Drinking water before bed decreases your risk of having a heart attack because it helps improve circulation during the hours when you’re most at risk of having a heart attack — while you’re sleeping.

Don't Become A Couch Potato
Dean Mitchell/istockphoto

don't become a couch potato

Even those who work out regularly have a tendency to become sedentary during the holidays. Not only do people tend to drink more and eat bigger portions of heart-unhealthy foods as December turns into January, they tend to fall off their exercise regimens as well. Try to stay active, even if that activity is significantly less than your normal workout routine. A simple walk around the block in the morning can go a long way to keeping your heart healthy.

Put Down The Shovel

put down the shovel

Exercise is generally a good idea for those in good health, but intense bouts of heavy physical exertion — like snow shoveling — by those who aren't used to it can spell trouble. A recent study suggests that shoveling snow could increase the risk of a heart attack in men. Avoid taxing your heart by leaving the shoveling to a neighbor, healthy family member, or professional. This is particularly true if you smoke or have a history of heart trouble.

Get A Flu Shot

get a flu shot

The flu claims thousands of lives and costs tens of billions of dollars every year — but getting a preventative shot can prevent more than just influenza. The Journal of the American Medical Association noted dramatically lower rates of heart attacks among those who got flu shots — particularly those who had already suffered a heart attack in the past.

Avoid Extreme Cold

avoid extreme cold

If you get the white Christmas you're dreaming of — and even if you don't — exposure to freezing temperatures, especially at length, could add additional strain on the heart. Extreme cold can tighten arteries, which can lower body temperature, reduce blood flow, and force the heart to work harder.

Back Off The Fireplace

back off the fireplace

Cozying up to a crackling fireplace is a holiday ritual, but keep your distance. Smoke from the fireplace gives off the same carcinogens as cigarette smoke. Even worse, particulate matter from crackling embers can find its way deep into the lungs, which can increase the risk of heart attack or stroke, as well as aggravate existing lung and heart disease.

Avoid Emotional Stress

avoid emotional stress

The holidays are supposed to be fun, but that fun often comes with an unwanted side effect: mountains of stress. From traffic and travel to awkward family encounters, the holidays often bring emotional ups and downs, anxiety, and stress — none of which is good for your heart. If you can, take a load off and try not to stress out, particularly if you have a history of heart trouble.

Know The Signs

know the signs

Even though heart attacks are more common over the holidays, with all the fun and festivities it's easy for common warning signs of heart trouble to go unnoticed. It's more important than ever during this time of year to know the symptoms, which include, but are not limited to, chest pain, pain in one or both arms, and pain in the upper stomach or the neck, jaw or back. Nausea, vomiting, and shortness of breath can also be signs.

Don't Put Off Getting Help

don't put off getting help

People often put off seeking help if they don't feel well during the holidays. They may want to see their own doctor, or don’t want to ruin the party. When it comes to heart attacks, however, every second counts. If you exhibit symptoms and think something is wrong, seek help right away.