It’s already December and after long periods of pandemic isolation, many people are busy scheduling and planning holiday gatherings and festivities. Holiday celebrations are usually centred around food and often alcoholic beverages, which when enjoyed in abundance can not only wreak havoc with healthy diets but can lead to holiday heart syndrome when people eat and drink too much, exercise too little and don’t find time to de-stress.
According to a recent New York Times Well report, more people die from heart attacks between Christmas and New Year’s Day than at any other time of the year. After several seasons of keeping gatherings small, or skipping them altogether to protect vulnerable loved ones from COVID, more parties and dinners are on the books, and it can be tempting to go all in – throwing caution to the wind. But if you have atrial fibrillation (irregular heart rhythms), a family history of A-fib, or obesity, the risk of a cardiac event can increase significantly if you over-indulge in alcohol.
Recent research has demonstrated a strong link between alcohol and A-fib, and the risk increases with age. Many people are not aware they have an irregular heart rhythm and it is often diagnosed when patients see their doctor for another concern. Limiting the amount of alcohol consumed to no more than two drinks per day for men, and one for women while staying hydrated can help protect the heart.
Maintaining your prescription medication schedule and making time for exercise – even if it’s a walk around the neighbourhood after dinner, can also help prevent cardiac issues. Anyone who experiences chest pain, a persistent racing heartbeat or struggles to breathe should seek medical care immediately. Many people put off getting medical attention during the holidays but if you are feeling unwell, dizzy or lightheaded, it can be a sign of a heart problem that needs attention right away.
The holiday season can be stressful as well as joyful. Finding ways to unwind during this busy time of year can help prevent cardiac events that can increase the risk of stroke, heart failure and dementia. Pay attention to how you are feeling, and take time away from the activity when you feel overwhelmed. Read a book, watch a funny movie, take a nap, or listen to music – whatever calms the mind is also good to help avoid holiday heart.