Supporting Heart Health During the Holiday Season

Dr. Brian Dolsey, MD

By Dr. Brian Dolsey, MD, FACC, FSCAI
Guest Column

During the holidays, we often see a rise in heart-related issues, including heart attacks. One reason is that our dedication to our health typically falls to the wayside during the busy holidays. We neglect our regular exercise routine; we overindulge in processed or fatty foods, and we drink more alcohol. Additionally, increased levels of stress, feelings of depression and lack of sleep can take its toll on the body.

By supporting your heart health, you can lower your risk of heart issues during the holidays and set yourself up for the start of a healthy new year.

Lower Your Risk for a Heart Issue

Here are some ways to support your heart health during the holidays:

  • Stay active during the season. The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes per week of vigorous aerobic activity, preferably spread throughout the week. Moderate- to high-intensity muscle-strengthening activity is recommended at least twice a week.
  • Eat heart healthy foods. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, lean meats, fish and healthy oils are foods that help support your heart health. Limit red meat, packaged foods, and foods with lots of salt or sodium.
  • Limit your alcohol intake. Increased alcohol consumption contributes to a higher risk for raised blood pressure and can contribute to other heart issues such as an irregular heartbeat and stroke. It’s recommended that men have no more than two alcoholic drinks per day and women have no more than one.
  • Reduce your holiday stress. Ongoing stress can increase your heart rate, blood pressure and your body’s demand for oxygen – all of which can affect your heart. The holiday season can be busy, stressful and emotionally challenging. Find ways to cope and work with a mental health professional if needed.
  • Stay on top of your heart medications. The holiday season can disrupt our daily schedules. If you’re on a schedule with prescribed medications, make sure you continue to take the right dose at the right times. Set a phone reminder or use a pill pack to help remember.
  • Schedule your routine check-up. The end of the year is almost here. Have you had your 2020 annual check-up? If not, schedule an appointment with your primary care provider to help identify any potential heart issues and support your overall health.
  • Be careful in the cold. Being in cold weather can cause our blood vessels to constrict, making it harder for your blood to pump through the body. Strenuous outdoor activity, such as shoveling snow, can increase the workload on the heart, especially among those who smoke, have diabetes or have an existing heart condition.

Recognize a Heart Attack Quickly

Knowing the signs of a heart attack can help you get life-saving care quickly, which is important for minimizing the damage to your heart. Unfortunately, many people are not aware of the major signs of a heart attack. Especially during the holiday season, symptoms may be ignored when people don’t want to worry friends and family or think they are just experiencing some indigestion. Not everyone with a heart attack has the type of chest-clutching heart attack you see on television. Signs of a heart attack may include:

  • Chest discomfort that can feel like pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain.
  • Cold sweat, nausea or vomiting.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Upper body discomfort in one or both arms, your back, neck, jaw or stomach.

If you think you or a loved one may be having a heart attack, act fast. Call 911 and then slowly chew and swallow one full-strength, 325 mg aspirin tablet. Chewing it will help your body absorb it more quickly to “thin” the blood and make it more difficult for a potential blood clot to grow. Never drive yourself or a loved one to the emergency room; an ambulance will keep you safe and get you help faster.

This holiday season, protect your health by recognizing the signs of a life-threatening emergency and taking steps to reduce your risk for heart issues.