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  • Cameron Oglesby

Don’t give yourself a heart attack for Christmas

According to American Heart Association 2022 statistics, some 850,000 Americans a year have heart attacks, 41% of whom (350,000) die from sudden cardiac arrest.

And according to a 2021 study, those deaths peak in December and January.

Specifically. “[t]he three days of the year that have the highest incidence of heart attacks are Christmas Eve, Christmas, and New Year’s,” says Dr. Norman Lepore, clinical professor at UCLA’s Geffen School of Medicine.

One very big reason for this is the weather. Cold weather narrows blood vessels. This restricts blood flow, so to compensate, your heart rate speeds up and your blood pressure shoots up. And if you haven’t been exercising regularly, sudden cold-weather exercise – ­either to shovel slow or keep a New Year’s resolution – can trigger a cardiac event.

What goes on indoors during the holiday season can pose as many heart risks as what happens outdoors.

For example, the colder the weather, the more people stay indoors, where they're more likely to catch colds and flu from each other. “The flu is associated with a significantly increased risk of heart attack and stroke,” Dr. Lepore notes.

So is celebrating the holidays with rich and sugary foods and alcoholic drinks. A 2019 Danish study found that nine out of ten people had very high levels of LDL (AKA “bad cholesterol”) the first week of January. That’s a major factor in heart disease. And more frequent alcohol drinking can lead to cardiac arrhythmias. The most common of those is atrial fibrillation, which can lead to strokes.

So for heart-healthier holidays, watch what, and how much, you eat and drink. If you’re going outside, dress for cold weather, take your time, stay hydrated, and go easy on the tobacco and alcohol – especially before you’re going out to shovel snow.

And if you should develop any heart attack symptoms – chest, jaw, or back pain; lightheadedness, shortness of breath, or nausea – call 911 or go to the hospital right away.

You’ll increase your chances of celebrating the holidays this year, next year, and for more years to come.

Best wishes from all of us at Senior Insights for happy holidays and a happy, healthy, and independent 2023!

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