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, 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 waist lines. These unhealthy foods increase blood pressure and blood sugar which leads to more heart attacks, heart disease, and strokes.