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Holiday Heart Health: 5 Tips for a Safe Season

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The holiday season, with its festive cheer and family gatherings, is unfortunately associated with a spike in heart attacks. More people have heart attacks in December and January than at any other time of the year. This surge can be attributed to a combination of factors, including excessive alcohol consumption, lack of physical activity and overindulgence in food— all hallmarks of the holiday season.

Beyond the physical aspects, the holidays also bring with them heightened levels of stress and depression. These emotional factors can significantly contribute to an increased risk of cardiac events. Recognizing these risks is the first step towards a healthier holiday season.

To counteract the negative effects, incorporating simple lifestyle changes can make a substantial difference. Engaging in regular exercise, such as a morning walk or jog, not only helps to prevent a health scare but also acts as an effective stress-reducer and mood enhancer. In a recent article in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, Dr. Chip Lavie explained that taking 2500-3000 steps per day offers mortality benefits, with the maximum benefits observed between 7000-9000 steps per day. Physical activity releases endorphins, the body's natural mood lifters, providing a natural defense against the holiday blues.

Additionally, it’s important to remember to eat, drink and be merry - in moderation that is! While moderate alcohol intake may offer some cardiovascular benefits, excessive drinking poses an immediate threat to the heart. Similarly, the allure of high-fat and salty holiday treats should be tempered by an awareness of their impact on both short-term and long-term heart health.

One significant risk during the holiday season is dismissing symptoms that could indicate a heart attack. Chest discomfort, often mistaken for indigestion, should not be ignored. Understanding the signs of a heart attack, could save your life or the life of someone you love. Here are a few symptoms to look out for:

  1. Chest pain
  2. Difficulty breathing
  3. Anxiety
  4. Profuse sweating
  5. Nausea
  6. Women may experience atypical symptoms like unusual fatigue, difficulty sleeping and shortness of breath in the month leading up to a heart attack.

Moreover, the reluctance of out-of-towners to seek medical help in unfamiliar locations can be a barrier to timely intervention. It's essential to prioritize health over familiarity and seek medical attention promptly if experiencing symptoms.

To maintain heart health throughout the holidays, here are some tips:

  1. Eat and drink in moderation: enjoy the festive treats but be mindful of portion sizes and alcohol consumption.
  2. Manage stress: don't let minor stressors escalate. Take time for self-care, whether it's a brief meditation or a walk in nature.
  3. Stay active: incorporate exercise into your holiday routine. Physical activity is not only beneficial for the heart but also helps alleviate stress and depression.
  4. Seek support for depression: if you find yourself feeling down, don't hesitate to reach out to someone you trust or seek professional help.
  5. Recognize symptoms: be aware of signs of a heart attack, and don't hesitate to seek emergency medical assistance if needed.

Taking these steps can go a long way in ensuring a heart-healthy and joyful holiday season for everyone. Remember, it's better to be safe than sorry, and hospitals appreciate false alarms over potential life-threatening situations. In a single year, over 5.2 million people visited U.S. hospital emergency rooms for symptoms related to the nervous system, highlighting the importance of prioritizing health and seeking help when needed.

Learn more about cardiology care at Ochsner.

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