This time of year may be full of holiday cheer, but seasonal stress, bad habits and cooler weather pose a serious risk to your heart. More people have heart attacks in the winter than any other time of year. By making simple changes, you can help give yourself and your family the gift of good heart health this holiday season.
Though the reason for the winter surge in heart disease is still being researched, the relationship between cold weather and your blood vessels is well understood. Cold temperatures cause blood vessels to narrow. To keep blood flowing to chilled extremities, the heart works harder, causing elevated blood pressure.
Research conducted by a team at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine found when temperatures dropped just 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit, approximately 2 percent more heart attacks occurred.
One simple solution is to limit your exposure to cold weather. Keep trips outdoors brief and bundle up in warm clothing from head to toes. That includes your face. The simple act of breathing in cold air can cause a reaction that leads to heart strain, so consider covering your nose and mouth with a warm scarf or mask made of moisture-wicking fabric.
Low levels of vitamin D have been linked to increased risk of heart disease. Gloomy weather and harsh conditions make it difficult to soak up the nutrient naturally this time of year.
Add a hearty dose of the sunny vitamin to your meals with eggs, fortified dairy products and fish such as salmon and tuna. Talk with your primary care provider about testing your vitamin D levels. He or she may recommend lifestyle changes or supplements to help boost the amount of vitamin D in your system if necessary. If you do receive a supplement, try to take it with a meal to boost absorption.
Hitting the holiday libations or consuming more caffeine than normal is hard on your body at the best of times. When paired with seasonal stress, it may lead to a condition called holiday heart syndrome—an irregular heartbeat that can compound heart health issues to devastating effect.
Help prevent holiday heart syndrome by dialing down the amount of alcohol you consume, skipping the salty, fatty buffet options, and staying well hydrated.
Beware other winter health hazards. Infections such as the influenza virus and pneumonia cause inflammation that may irritate preexisting heart conditions. Prevent collateral damage by getting immunized against these conditions as soon as possible, keeping communal areas and commonly touched objects germ-free with frequent disinfecting, and practicing regular hand hygiene.
For more information about staying heart healthy year-round, visit the American Heart Association website at heart.org.
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