Here's why your heart is more at risk during the holidays, and what you can do to protect it.
The holiday season is a time that is traditionally associated with togetherness and celebration. But the festivities often take more of a toll on people's health than they may realize. Even while your heart may be full of joy, it may unknowingly be more at risk of having a serious cardiac event. In fact, not only do more people have heart attacks during the winter holidays, but they are more likely to die from them between December 25th and January 1st than at any other time of the year.
What might be causing this increased heart attack risk during the holiday season? Here are six factors that may affect your heart health at this time of year:
- Overindulgence – Holiday festivities typically involve indulging in high-calorie foods and drinks. An increased intake of salt, sugar, saturated fat, alcohol and calories can contribute to heart disease risk factors such as high blood pressure and cholesterol levels, as well as obesity. Overeating or drinking excessively may also trigger a cardiac event.
- Stress – For some people, the pressure of social gatherings, meeting expectations, financial strain and the emotional weight of the season can lead to heightened stress levels. Stress, a known risk factor for heart attacks, can elevate blood pressure and trigger other physiological responses that strain the heart.
- Physical Inactivity – During the holidays, people often deviate from their regular exercise routines due to busy schedules, travel or adverse weather conditions. Reduced physical activity can lead to weight gain, higher blood pressure and reduced cardiovascular fitness, which can make you more susceptible to heart attacks.
- Disrupted Sleep – The holiday season often messes up regular sleep patterns due to late-night social events, long to-do lists, travel and stress. Inadequate or poor-quality sleep can negatively affect heart health by elevating blood pressure and stress levels. This puts a strain on the cardiovascular system and can increase the risk of heart attacks.
- Weather – Depending on the region, the holiday season can coincide with colder temperatures, which may exacerbate heart health issues. Cold weather constricts blood vessels and may increase blood pressure, potentially triggering heart attacks in vulnerable people.
- Delay in Seeking Medical Attention – There are many reasons people ignore symptoms or don't get medical attention at this time of year. You may not want to disrupt holiday plans or think you're too busy to go to a doctor or hospital. Some people may also assume their symptoms are due to indigestion or fatigue rather than a cardiac event. Delayed medical intervention can significantly worsen the outcomes of a heart attack.
While the holiday season is a time to focus on the people in your life, it's equally important to prioritize your own health and well-being. You can help lower your risk of a cardiac event by maintaining a healthy diet, managing stress, staying physically active, getting enough sleep, dressing properly for the weather and being proactive about getting medical attention for any possible cardiac symptoms.
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Date Last Reviewed: October 16, 2023
Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor
Medical Review: Perry Pitkow, MD