Friday, December 5, 2014

Keeping Your Heart Healthy During the Holidays

The holidays are a time of celebration with family, friends, and the community. During this time, millions of people change their normal habits of traveling, eating, drinking, and exercising. It also can be a time of increased stress due to travel, family, and work issues. These factors impact your health directly, and also for people with chronic diseases, the hustle bustle of the season may cause inappropriate delays in seeking medical therapy. For people with heart disease, some common sense strategies can help make a big difference in keeping a person at home for the holidays, instead of in an emergency room or a hospital bed or worse.

The first strategy for heart patients to stay healthy during the holidays is to continue with their routine medical doctor visits. It can be a big mistake to put off a scheduled appointment because a family member is flying in that day, or a friend is driving into town that day. Regular office visits can enable heart patients and their doctors to identify any change in medical condition early, while it still can be successfully treated.

Another strategy that can help heart patients during the holidays is to maintain their routine dietary and exercise habits. Excess salt in particular can lead to fluid retention, which can put extra strain on the heart. Also, sudden changes in exercise habits and exertion levels can also shock the heart, and sometimes cause some problems. While exercise is good for just about all of us, gradual changes generally are better tolerated by the body and more successful in getting the results we want. Also, stress reduction through meditation and similar activities also appears to be particularly helpful in heart disease patients.

Finally, remember that there are people in the medical clinics, in the hospitals, and in the emergency rooms during the holidays. They are there to help. Heart patients should not hesitate in seeking medical attention just because it is Christmas Day or New Year's Eve. When it comes to your heart, getting prompt medical attention, when it is necessary, can be life saving.

Discuss all of these issues ahead of time during a routine visit to your doctor. This will help decrease your stress levels and your anxiety, which is good for your heart. Be sure to ask about what you should do if you have a question. Discuss dietary issues, including salty foods such as ham or chips. Making a plan ahead of time can help you stay as healthy as possible during the holidays.


When and why do heart attacks occur? Cardiovascular triggers and their potential role. Schwartz BG, Mayeda GS, Burstein S, Economides C, Kloner RA. Hosp Pract (Minneap). 2010 Aug;38(5):144-52.

Cardiac mortality is higher around Christmas and New Year's than at any other time: the holidays as a risk factor for death. Phillips DP, Jarvinen JR, Abramson IS, Phillips RR. Circulation. 2004 Dec 21;110(25):3781-8. Epub 2004 Dec 13. Review.

Published by Tom Heston MD 12/7/2011

Tom Heston MD is a Johns Hopkins trained physician who practices clinical medicine in the Pacific Northwest.