When it comes to your heart health, seconds count all year ’round. Research studies have found that more fatal heart attacks occur at Christmas and New Year’s than at any other time of the year. Doctors aren’t entirely sure why this is true, but it doesn’t seem to be related to cold temperatures, as the effect is also observable in warmer areas of the United States.
Some theorize that more fatal heart attacks occur at Christmas and New Year’s because of the drastic changes in routines that can take place during this time. The following tips may help preserve your heart health during the winter holidays:
- Seek help immediately. If you have heart attack symptoms (chest, jaw, or arm pain; sudden, severe nausea or fatigue, etc.) dial 911 right away. Do not feel embarrassed or concerned about disrupting a gathering with family or friends. Your safety will be far more important to them.
- Don’t let the fact that you are traveling delay care. Over the holidays, you may be traveling and not know where to seek medical care. Do not delay seeking help for this reason. Again, seconds count when you are having a heart attack. If you have a cell phone, make sure you have it charged and carry it with you when you travel. If you think you may be having a heart attack, dial 911 without delay. If you don’t have a cell phone, ask someone nearby to call 911 for you.
No doubt, the holidays are a time of celebration, but they can also make it tougher to take care of ourselves. Stress, weight gain, depression, and other common holiday problems can contribute to cardiovascular disease. You can help protect your heart over the holidays by avoiding some of the following health risks:
- Don’t drink and drive. This one is not heart-health specific, but it’s important enough for everyone that it bears mentioning.
- Focus on moderation in your holiday diet. It’s okay to indulge a little over the holidays, but not a lot! Obesity is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, and even modest weight gain can affect your blood pressure. Additionally, overindulgence in holiday foods could introduce more saturated fats, cholesterol, sodium, and sugar into your diet.
- Weigh yourself daily. Tracking your weight will make you aware of the impact of your food and drink choices at holiday parties.
- Don't burn the candle at both ends. You may be busy over the holidays, but getting enough sleep is important. Poor sleep can contribute to cardiovascular disease.
- Exercise. It can be easy to get out of your routine over the holidays. However, exercise can help improve your cardiovascular health and may reduce stress or depression.
- Manage stress. Set realistic goals for yourself; everything does not need to be perfect! It is ok to say no, and your heart health may benefit. Stress can increase your risk of a heart attack and angina (chest pain), among other cardiovascular problems.
- Depression. Many people experience depression over the holidays. If you think you may have depression, do not be embarrassed to seek help from a qualified medical professional if you have not already done so. Not only is seeking treatment important for your mental health - depression can increase your risk of heart disease or a heart attack.