Food, drinks, gifts and time with family make the holidays a merry occasion for people across the country. However, all that celebrating can sometimes become a distraction from maintaining heart health.
In fact, the joys of the season can become marred for many as research shows an uptick in cardiac events and heart attack deaths during the final week of December. According to a study published in the American Heart Association journal, “Circulation,” more cardiac deaths occur on Dec. 25 than any other day of the year, followed by the second largest number on Dec. 26 and third largest on Jan. 1.
“The holidays are a busy, often stressful time for many of us,” said American Heart Association Chief Clinical Science Officer Mitchell S.V. Elkind, M.D., M.S., FAHA. “Routines are disrupted. We may tend to eat and drink more and exercise and relax less. We’re getting too little sleep and experiencing too much stress. While we don’t know exactly why there are more deadly heart attacks during this time, it’s important to be aware that these factors can snowball, increasing the risk for a deadly cardiac event.”
Being aware of this annual phenomenon and taking a few important, heart-healthy steps can help save lives. Consider these tips from Dr. Elkind and the experts at the American Heart Association.
■ Know symptoms and take action: Heart attack signs vary in men and women, but it’s important to recognize them early and call 9-1-1 for help. The sooner medical treatment begins, the better chances of survival and preventing heart damage.
■ Celebrate in moderation: Eating healthfully during the holidays doesn’t have to mean depriving yourself. There are ways to eat smart, such as by limiting sodium intake and looking for small, healthy swaps so you continue to feel your best while eating and drinking in moderation.
■ Practice goodwill toward yourself: Make time to take care of yourself during this busy season. Reading a favorite book, meditating or even playing with pets are productive ways to reduce stress from the family interactions, strained finances, hectic schedules, traveling and other stressors that can be brought on by the holidays.
■ Keep moving: The hustle and bustle of holiday preparation often pushes exercise to the side, but it’s important to stay active as much as possible. Get creative to keep moving by going for a family walk or playing physically active games with loved ones.
■ Stick to your medications: Busy schedules can cause some people to skip medications, sometimes even forgetting them at home or not getting refills in a timely manner. Try using a medication chart as a reminder, and be sure to keep tabs on your blood pressure numbers.