A 15-year study that looked at hospital admissions in three California regions for cardiovascular diseases and stroke suggests that even relatively small drops in temperature are correlated with more admissions for acute myocardial infarction, angina pectoris, congestive heart failure, and stroke. Similar findings have been seen in Europe and Asia.
Doctors at El Camino Hospital in Mountain View, California (the home of Google) make the following suggestions:
Stay warm: The body’s automatic response to cold is to reduce blood flow by narrowing vessels. Individuals whose arteries may already be clogged with plaque have a much higher risk that a vessel will become blocked and cause a heart attack.
Take vitamins–especially Vitamin D: Not only do shorter days correlate with increased depression, but they may have a more direct effect–heart-attack patients have decreased levels of vitamin D (derived from sunlight) compared to healthy people.
Don’t over-exert: Think twice about, say, hitting the ski slopes if you’re out of shape, especially if you have been diagnosed with heart disease or a prior heart attack. And in any case, bundle up.
Be careful about well-intentioned New Year’s resolutions: Don’t try to reverse years of sedentary lifestyle in a few weeks. If you’re overweight, out of shape, have high cholesterol and blood pressure, or haven’t exercised in years, first check with your doctor before hitting the gym.
Step away from the buffet: The average weight gain during the holidays is only about a pound, but already-overweight people tend to gain substantially more–about 5 lbs–which can raise their already-higher risk profile.
Don’t let your stress get out of hand: Holidays are likely to bring increased anxiety due to time and financial pressures, and depression and anxiety correlate with increased heart risk.
Get vaccinated: When flu cases increase, so do heart attacks. In fact, experts estimate that an annual flu shot can cut some individuals’ risk of heart attack in half.