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4 holiday heart dangers
Choose your indulgences wisely so you don’t fall victim to these health hazards

Your heart & daylight

Can shorter winter hours contribute to cardiovascular disease? Studies have suggested that people who have vitamin D deficiencies may be more prone to heart attack, stroke and heart failure. Because sunlight helps our bodies produce vitamin D, some experts suggest that less sun exposure during shorter days may put people at higher risk for heart disease. But don’t run off to that tropical island just yet—you can get all the vitamin D you need from food. The American Heart Association recommends you get your vitamin D from fish such as mackerel, sardines and salmon; cod liver oil; milk; and fortified cereals.

Your heart & the weather

People who have coronary artery disease are susceptible to chest pain when exposed to the cold. Arteries constrict in cold climates, causing less blood flow and oxygen to reach the heart. In addition, the exertion of strenuous snow shoveling can put you at risk for heart attack, especially if you’re out of shape.

Another cold-weather risk is hypothermia—when your body doesn’t produce enough heat to stay warm. Most hypothermia deaths are the result of heart failure.

Holiday season is fast approaching—and so is an increased risk for heart attack. During November, December and January, more people die from heart attacks than at any other time of the year, according to Duke University researchers. Don’t let the winter take a toll on your heart. Avoid the four following seasonal pitfalls:

  1. Too much food and too little exercise. A little indulgence on special occasions is OK, but don’t entirely abandon your healthy lifestyle. Substitute low-fat or nonfat yogurt for mayonnaise in dips and dressings. Replace some of the bread in your stuffing recipe with chopped vegetables. Put on your sneakers and head for the mall to do some holiday speed-shopping!
  2. Too much alcohol and smoke exposure. Drinking too much alcohol can raise the level of some fats in the blood and increase risk of high blood pressure, alcoholism, obesity, stroke, suicide and accidents. More parties during the holidays may mean more exposure to secondhand smoke, which has been linked to cardiovascular-related death and disability.
  3. Stress and anxiety. Family conflicts, traveling, shopping, cooking and parties can make it seem impossible to relax, as can worrying about how to pay for everything. Acute and chronic stress may contribute to high blood pressure, so it’s important to head it off. Relaxation techniques like deep breathing or a yoga class may help. Accept your limits and don’t aim for perfection.
  4. Exposure to germs. Crowded malls, school plays, indoor parties, visiting relatives: It’s no surprise that respiratory infections like colds and flu are more common during the winter months. People with heart disease have increased risk for dying of complications from the flu—so get a flu shot! In addition, cut your risk by washing your hands frequently, getting enough sleep and making sure other family members are up to date on their vaccinations. If you do get sick, be cautious if you have high blood pressure and are taking cold medicines. Decongestants can raise your blood pressure.

© 2014 Dowden Health Media