Unfortunately, we know that the number of heart attacks rises dramatically over the Christmas period. Research has shown that the risk of a heart attack on Christmas eve is a HUGE 37% higher than the rest of the year. This same study, carried out in Sweden in 2018, found that heart attacks were most common on Christmas eve, followed by Christmas day. It reviewed hospital admissions for the previous 16 years. Patients who were 75 years or older and those with diabetes or a history of heart disease were most at risk.
Whilst it is difficult to pinpoint one cause of this sharp rise, it is likely to be a combination of; diet, increased alcohol consumption, the stress of family interactions and the pressure to have a ‘perfect Christmas’ as well as the financial strain that Christmas can bring.
If you are already at risk of heart disease, then these additional factors can be all it takes for you to have a heart attack. In addition, people are more likely to ignore the warning signs over the Christmas period.
What steps can you take to reduce your risk?
1. Have a plan
Over Christmas, you don’t want to deny yourself every nice meal and treat, but it is helpful to have a plan. You might decide that you are only going to have one helping of Christmas pudding or limit yourself to only two roast potatoes. Decide at the beginning of the day what or how much you want to eat and try to stick to it.
2. Buy in some alcohol-free drinks
These days there is a really good selection of alcohol-free drinks. Whilst they still might contain more sugar than we would recommend, too much alcohol often leads to poor decision making and potentially eating and drinking more than is wise. Why not stick to alcohol free options in the earlier part of the day and try to limit your alcohol units.
3. If you feel yourself getting stressed have a ‘time out’
Whilst it is lovely to see family and be reunited with people that you don’t typically see at other times of the year; it can also be a time of stress. The pressure for everything to be perfect can cause a lot of anxiety. Arguments between family members can cause blood pressure to rise. Try to remove yourself from situations or conversations that you know will provoke anxiety or stress – this is not the time for big emotional chats. If you feel yourself getting worked up, it might be time to give yourself a ‘time out’ and go for walk around the block.
4. Protect yourself from the cold
Many of us go for a Christmas day walk. This might be a longer walk that you are accustomed to. It is good to get some exercise and whilst we wouldn’t recommend inactivity, it is better to take it slow and make sure you are well wrapped up. Cold weather is associated with increased blood pressure, which in turn raises your risk of heart disease and stroke.
5. Make time for some exercise
The New Year is traditionally the time when people return to exercise or start a new sport. Our recommendation would be to try and maintain some activity throughout the year, even at Christmas. It doesn’t need to be anything too strenuous, and it is important to know your limits, but making time to do some yoga or an online workout can help regulate your insulin levels, improve your mood and reduce anxiety.
6. Don’t ignore the signs
This is probably the most important of all the steps. During the holiday season it can be easy not to listen to our bodies or think that we will go and speak to a doctor or cardiologist on boxing day or even after the Christmas holidays. Getting seen quickly is so important with cardiac health. If you are experiencing mild chest pain, pain down the arm or in the jaw, this can be an early warning sign that you are having a heart attack. Whilst it is easy to dismiss this as indigestion or even ignore it altogether, catching the early signs can be the difference between life and death.
If you have any concerns, or would like to speak to a cardiologist, please get in touch here: