Every year, roughly 655,000 Americans die from heart disease or other heart-related failure, according to the CDC. Cardiac mortality rates are highest during the months of December and January, peaking during the couple of weeks around Christmas and The New Year. What many would consider “the most wonderful time of year” can actually end up being quite the opposite when it comes to their cardiac health. Research published in Circulation shows that in the US, there are 4.65% more cardiac-related deaths during the holidays than any other time of the year.

The reason for this deadly spike can be attributed to a multitude of factors, including added holiday stress, traveling to unfamiliar places, and cold weather. Research has shown, though, that the greatest cause of increased heart-related illness and death is the drastic change in diet and alcohol consumption many people experience during the holidays. So who exactly is most at risk for a heart attacked during the winter months and what measures can be taken to reduce that risk?

Who Is Most At Risk for a Heart Related Issues?

First, it’s important to note who is most at risk for heart-related illness and the warning signs to watch out for. According to the CDC, almost half of all Americans have one of three risk factors associated with heart disease, providing conditions that lead to heart attacks. 

The three greatest risk factors for heart disease include: 

  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Smoking

Age also plays an immense role in elevating one’s risk of general heart disease. Men over the age of 45 and women over the age of 55 have a greater chance of experiencing cardiac issues than those younger. Anyone in these age demographics should take necessary measures to mitigate their risk of heart disease by reducing the risk of the other three categories outlined above.

During the holidays specifically, the population most susceptible to the increased risk of a heart attack are those individuals over the age of 75, with a history of diabetes and high blood cholesterol levels. These individuals are more at risk because of the greater intake of traditional holiday foods containing high saturated fat content.

Why Does Food Increase the Risk?

The foods that we eat around Christmas and The New Year contribute greatly to the increased levels of cholesterol we consume. Studies show that a large intake of foods high in saturated and trans fats increases the risk of a heart attack by 14% compared to other foods. Common holiday foods that are high in saturated fats include:

  • Eggnog. One cup of regular eggnog has 11 grams of saturated fat and 150 milligrams of cholesterol.
  • Turkey and Ham. Turkey thighs and dark meat have a high fat content.
  • Gravy. Stuffing and gravy used as a side dish are loaded with saturated fat.
  • Casseroles or any dish prepared with cream, cheese, or breadcrumbs.

These foods, while safe to eat in small portions, can quickly increase cholesterol levels and increase the risk of heart-related illness if consumed in large quantities. 

Another food-related factor contributing to increased blood cholesterol levels is the immense stress that many endure over the holidays. When faced with a prolonged stressful event, many people resort to overeating and/or consuming alcohol to cope with the added stress. The additional food intake and change in diet can increase blood pressure in the body and lead to a greater chance of heart-related issues.

Heart-Healthy Alternatives to Minimize Risk

There are still ways to enjoy the holidays and the comfort that dinner with the family brings. When choosing what foods to lay on the table, aim for those that contain lower levels of cholesterol and saturated fats to reduce the risk of a heart attack. Some healthier alternatives to the foods listed above can include:

  • Low-fat eggnog, or a substitute beverage.
  • Turkey breast. White meat contains significantly less fat than dark meat.
  • Vegetables and Oil-based sides. Substituting stuffing for a vegetable, or using oil instead of butter in a gravy can reduce fat and cholesterol content.

Another Notable Factor: Stress

As previously stated, the added stress of the holidays can lead to unhealthy changes in diet, but stress alone can be enough to cause a heart attack. The number of heart attacks alone, both fatal and non-fatal, increases by up to 15% on Christmas Eve around 10 p.m. This is around the time where many adults feel the peak of anxiety, fear, and stress related to Christmas. This risk-factor is important to keep in mind when planning holiday tactics for reducing risk of a heart attack. Simple acts like daily meditation can help reduce the added risk 

In conclusion, it is shown that peoples’ changing habits around the holidays can lead to unwanted heart problems. It is necessary to take precaution in the things we do, the food we eat, and the ways we handle stress in order to reduce the chance of heart failure. 

If you would like to know exactly how you can make the changes necessary to protect your heart-health, contact the professionals at CT Cardio. They can help ensure you’re on the right track to keeping your heart and body healthy for years to come!