For many people, the holidays are about spending time with loved ones, reflecting on the year that has passed and preparing for the year ahead. While the holiday season is frequently a time of happiness, researchers for years have noticed a spike in the number of heart attacks and strokes during the winter holiday season.
So why do the winter holidays increase our risk of disease and more importantly what can we do to reverse that trend? Well, lets start with the why.
There are actually a multitude of reasons why the winter holiday season is associated with a peak in the incidents of both heart attacks and strokes including:
1. Emotional Stress
Let’s be honest folks, for most people the holidays are a pretty stressful time. The stressors can range from simple matters like finding the perfect presents for everyone on your list to major stressors like bereavement and recent family loss. Regardless of the source, stress is stress, and all stress produces a similar physiologic response, namely the release of the so-called stress hormones (cortisol, adrenaline and norepinephrine). Among the many physical effects of these stress hormones is an increase in blood pressure and heart rate. Both of these increase the risk of heart attack, heart failure and stroke.
2. Increased Physical Exertion
The hustle and bustle of the holidays can feel never ending; from shopping trips, to extra chores, to lifting packages, and decking the halls. Much like emotional stress, this increased physical stress results in the production of those same stress hormones which increase the risk of heart attack, heart disease and stroke.
3. Unhealthy food (high salt, fat, and cholesterol)
A huge part of enjoying holiday cheer involves a good meal or two or five, and frequently those meals include a lot of unhealthy, fatty, deep fried, over-salted, butter-laden goodies that wreak havoc on our waistlines. These unhealthy foods increase blood pressure and blood sugar, which leads to more heart attacks, heart disease, and strokes.
RELATED: Winter Holidays Are High Time for Heart Attacks: 5 Tips for Protecting Yourself
To add insult to injury, not only do we eat unhealthy foods but we eat way too much of it. When we fill our stomachs to the brim, the body has to divert extra blood from vital organs (heart and brain) to the stomach just to digest all of the food that we have eaten. The decreased blood flow to these organs once again increases the risk of heart attack and stroke.
5. Excessive alcohol consumption
The key word here is excessive. While most folks find a little extra holiday cheer at the bottom of a wine glass, you have to remember that moderation is best, even during the holidays. Excessive alcohol intake increases blood pressure, which — say it with me– increases the risk of heart attack, heart failure and stroke. The American Heart Association recommends that women should limit alcohol intake to no more than one drink per day and men to no more than two drinks per day with a drink being defined as no more than 5 ounces of wine or 12 ounces of beer.
6. Cold weather
For many of us, the winter holiday season brings a lot of snow and brutally cold weather with it. The body’s natural response to cold weather is vasoconstriction (the blood vessels constrict). This is why your fingers and nail beds turn blue in cold weather; there is just less blood flowing to them. Vasoconstriction also means that vital organs like your heart and brain are getting less