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Have a Heart Healthy Holiday Season

present bowsDid you know that more heart attacks happen during the holiday season than any other time of the year?  In fact, according to studies this national trend peaks on Christmas and New Year’s Day1.  Holidays are times to spend celebrating and enjoying the company of friends and family, but they are often accompanied by unhealthy behaviors.  Excess drinking, salty or heavy meals, and a lack of exercise all contribute to poor health.  Holiday travel can also lead to missed medication doses or difficulty in finding adequate medical care.  Have a plan going into the holiday season and enjoy the holidays with moderation. 

Keep Warm
Try to avoid exposure to very cold temperatures.  Studies have shown that colder temperatures cause the heart to work harder to pump blood through the body. This added stress to the heart can increase chances of a heart attack. Bundle up when going out doors to prevent your heart from over working.

Stress can cause major damage to your holiday celebration and your heart!  People may feel stress from having to interact with relatives, having to absorb financial pressures such as purchasing gifts, traveling expenses, entertaining, decorating and having to travel.  Keep your stress levels down by knowing what triggers your stress and making a plan to deal with it, like taking time to do things you enjoy during your celebration. If you feel yourself getting stressed out this holiday season, check out these tips from the Mayo Clinic to help manage or avoid stressful situations.

Make Good Food Choices 
Our favorite holiday foods often come with high amounts of sugar, salt, and fat, which all can add pounds to our waistlines and increase the risk for heart disease. Much of the sodium (salt) we eat comes from prepared and processed foods.  Paying attention to what you eat and choosing healthier options will help you to avoid gaining weight over the holidays and keep your heart healthy.

  • Don’t go to a party hungry. Eat a light healthy snack before going out.
  • When you arrive at a party, avoid rushing to the food.  Go enjoy some conversation with friends and family first.
  • Make just one trip to the buffet and use a small plate.
  • Fill up on lower calorie, nutrient dense foods such as fruits, veggies, lean meats and whole grain breads.
  • Choose only the foods you REALLY want and keep the portions small.
  • Eat slowly and enjoy each mouthful.
  • Check out this My Plate tip sheet for more information on making a healthy plate:

Take a Walk
Physical activity can help lower blood pressure and maintain or lose weight.  Staying physically active during the hustle and bustle of the season can be difficult.  Incorporate activity into your holiday plans. Try walking a little more while shopping or after your holiday feast talk a walk with family and friends to see the lights. 

Limit your Alcohol 
Avoid drinking in excess. Too much drinking or “binge drinking” can lead to heart complications that can increase a person’s risk for stroke, heart attack, or heart failure. 

Get a Flu Vaccine
Consider getting a flu vaccination. Infections and fever put extra stress on the heart.  Studies also show that death from the flu is more common among people with heart disease than among people with any other chronic illness.  Check out this holiday message from the CDC:

For more information about the flu and vaccines, visit:

Stay Away from Smoke
Try to avoid smoke from wood-burning fireplaces.  Ultra-fine particles in the air can be bad for the heart. If you’re visiting another home during the holidays, try sitting as far away as you can from a burning fireplace.

Be Prepared
Have a plan if you are traveling for the holidays.  Be sure to pack medications and make time to take them.  Know where you can get medical care and bring your health history and insurance information with you.

Know the Signs and Symptoms of Heart Attack

  • Pain or discomfort in the jaw, neck, or back.
  • Feeling weak, light-headed, or faint.
  • Chest pain or discomfort.
  • Pain or discomfort in arms or shoulder.
  • Shortness of breath.

Don’t Delay Getting Treatment
If you think that you or someone you know is having a heart attack, you should CALL 9–1–1 IMMEDIATELY. A person's chances of surviving a heart attack are increased if emergency treatment is given to the victim as soon as possible.

You can find out what your 10-year risk of having a heart attack or dying from coronary artery disease and additional information about what you can do about, it by using the Heart Attack Risk Calculator.


1. Kloner RA. The “Merry Christmas Coronary” and “Happy New Year Heart Attack” Phenomenon. Circulation. 2004;110:3744-3745.

Last Updated: 12-10-2012

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