Heart-healthy Habits for a Happy Holiday

TAWAS CITY, MI - It’s the most wonderful time of the year, but with many to-do lists, stress, cold weather and straying from good health habits in terms of eating, sleeping and drinking, the holiday season can pose increased risk for our hearts. Research from the American Heart Association has shown a spike in cardiac events during the holiday season, with more people dying from heart attacks between Christmas and New Year’s than any other time.

While there are always more errands to run, parties to go to and foods to enjoy this time of year, make it a priority to protect your heart. By preparing a few healthy habits, you can reduce your risk for conditions like heart attack, arrhythmias, heart valve disease and stroke. Here’s how to keep your heart happy and healthy during the holidays and beyond.

Know the Signs and Don’t Delay Care
During such a busy time of year, it can be easy to dismiss early warning signs of a heart condition or think that a check-up can wait until after the holiday. No one wants to miss out on holiday fun or family time, but sometimes delay can cause heart damage to increase. That’s why it’s crucial to know the signs of emergency cardiac events like heart attack or stroke and take action at the first sign.

For stroke, remember the acronym B.E. F.A.S.T. That stands for loss of balance, eyes (loss of vision), face drooping, arm weakness, speech difficulty, time to call 911. Chest discomfort is the primary sign of heart attack, though it may present as more of a dull, heavy pressure or even be absent altogether. Other symptoms of heart attack include shortness of breath and aches in the arms, back, neck, jaw or stomach as well as other parts of the upper body. If you are in any sort of distress, such as severe respiratory difficulty or severe lightheadedness, call 911 for help. The sooner you seek medical attention, the better your outcome will be.

Maintain a Healthy Diet
It may be tempting to indulge over the holidays, but consuming large amounts of food high in saturated and trans-fat, cholesterol, sodium and added sugars can put your heart at risk. The few extra pounds gained over the holiday year after year could have a lasting effect. Obesity is a known risk factor for heart attacks. Before you put food on your plate, analyze the foods available and choose which ones you will eat or skip. In moderation, you can still enjoy your favorite holiday food while eating smart.

It’s also important to be aware of a condition that doctors call “Holiday Heart Syndrome.” Binging on alcohol can lead to palpitations, irregular heartbeats and even atrial fibrillation in otherwise healthy individuals. Listen to your body and be aware of unusual symptoms you may experience, especially after a big meal. Call your doctor and get medical care right away if you notice anything out of the ordinary.

Stick to Your Meds
The holidays get busy, and people often forget to get prescription refills or bring their medicines when staying with family. Try a medication chart or set reminders on your phone. No matter the time of year, always take your medications as prescribed, and seek medical attention if you have any new or concerning cardiac symptoms.

Manage Stress
With people to shop for, travel and family parties, it often feels like there’s little time to stop, breathe and relax. Stress can constrict blood vessels, raising blood pressure and increasing risk for conditions like heart attack, stroke, atrial fibrillation and heart failure. Staying active is a great way to reduce stress and help keep off that extra holiday weight. Even moderate exercise can help with holiday stress, like taking family walks.

Winter Preparedness
Winter is here with cold temperatures and snow. The combination of shoveling and breathing in cold air can cause blood vessels and arteries to spasm and constrict which could lead to a heart attack. When you have to be outside, dress warm and in layers. Wear a hat, gloves and snow boots. Cover your mouth and nose to limit the cold air you inhale. Shovel snow in small sections and take breaks. Push the snow using short strokes instead of lifting it. If the snow is deep, clear it in layers to avoid fatigue.

Enjoy the holiday season to the fullest by committing to your heart health. Be mindful of possible heart symptoms, manage your diet, medications and stress, and never delay care if you need it.