When Should I Worry About...

4 Holiday Heart Dangers to Dodge

Dec. 15, 2021

Holiday season is here, and so is an increased heart attack risk. More people die from heart attacks during November, December and January than any other time of year, according to Duke University researchers.

Here are four ways to avoid letting the holiday season take a toll on your heart.

1. Avoid eating too much food and exercising too little

“A little indulgence on special occasions is okay, but don’t entirely abandon your healthy lifestyle,” says Dr. Nadia Fida, cardiologist at Houston Methodist.

Here are some tips:

  • Substitute low-fat or nonfat yogurt for mayonnaise in dips and dressings
  • Replace some bread in your stuffing recipe with chopped vegetables
  • Put on your sneakers and head outside to take in the holiday lights in your neighborhood or area

2. Limit alcohol consumption

In the short-term, having too much alcohol can:

  • Impair judgment
  • Disrupt sleep
  • Interact with certain medications you might be taking, including over-the-counter pain relievers
  • Trigger certain health conditions, such as migraines and mood issues

Long-term, alcohol raises the level of some fats in the blood and increases the risk of developing high blood pressure, cancer, liver disease, chronic pancreatitis, sleep disorders, alcoholism and more. It can also increase the risk of suicide and accidents.

3. Reduce stress and anxiety

Family conflicts, traveling, shopping, cooking and parties can make it hard to relax, as well as worrying about holiday costs.

“Acute and chronic stress may contribute to high blood pressure, so it’s important to head it off,” Dr. Fida says. “Relaxation techniques like deep breathing or a yoga class may help.”

It's also important to accept your limits and not lose sight of maintaining the healthy behaviors that help improve your mood.

4. Stay safe from COVID-19, the flu and other illnesses

Crowded stores, school plays, indoor parties, airports and visiting relatives — it's easy to understand why illnesses spread so easily during the holiday season.

Anyone can get very sick from COVID-19, and people with heart disease have an increased risk of getting severely ill and experiencing life-threatening complications as a result.

This means that, right now, it's important for everyone to get vaccinated against COVID-19. And if it's been some time since your first dose or doses of COVID-19 vaccine, now is the time to get your COVID booster if you're eligible — especially as we continue to learn more about the new COVID-19 variant, Omicron, and the Delta variant also continues to spread.

And whether you're vaccinated or not, take steps to stay safe from COVID-19 and make sure you're planning a safe holiday gathering.

The same goes for preventing the spread of the flu and the importance of getting your flu shot. (Related: Flu and Heart Disease: The Surprising Connection That Should Convince You to Schedule Your Shot

If you do get sick, be cautious about taking cold medicines such as decongestants if you have high blood pressure. These medications can raise your blood pressure.

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