By David Martin, RN, President and CEO, VeinInnovations
As reported in last week’s Live Healthy, Atlanta!, research shows the holiday season and its glad tidings also bring an increase in deadly heart attacks. Christmas, December 26, and New Year’s Day, according to one study, are the days most likely for such an event.
Last week’s column also mentioned factors involved in the spike in holiday heart attacks – lack of exercise, weight gain, the increased likelihood of drinking and eating to excess – especially salty foods that raise blood pressure – and how those, combined with cold weather and seasonal illnesses such as colds and flu, can stack up to hurt you. We touched on the emotional factors. This week we’re going to zero in on staying more “Zen” during the holidays, as less stress is good for everyone.
What makes for holiday stress?
Heightened expectations, unmet desires of holidays past, and that human habit of comparing “our holiday extravaganza” to that of friends and family members increases strain on an already over-taxed body. If you find yourself hung up in comparing, complaining, or on the verge of an argument, substitute a healthy behavior for focusing on the negative. Take a note of a current business buzzword and put it to use: Disrupt, as in change the way things are being done. In this case, simply disrupt the energy by walking away.
Other stressors include the rush to get to one more event, the push to make the last plane out, the discomfort of sleeping in an unfamiliar bed, or the desire to “make everything perfect.”
Practice saying “no” now so you can resist buckling under family pressure come Thanksgiving, when family or friends push you to do more than you really want to do.
Other steps you can take now to keep things merry and bright:
Start exercising now. Plug in the ear buds, get the game on your phone, and walk during halftime. Park further away at work, take the steps instead of the elevator, or walk during lunch.
Just wear the coat. And a couple of other layers. Staying warm is better for you, and your heart. A sudden shock of cold weather – after being inside – is a stressor. Ease into the cold with layers on.
Avoid sudden exertion. Getting the house ready for holiday company is not the time to suddenly leap into action. Start exercising now, so you’re “every-day fit” when you suddenly need to rake a mountain of leaves, or charge through the mall or airport with a ton of stuff in tow.
Lay off the salt and alcohol. Too much drinking can lead to atrial fibrillation, an abnormal heart rhythm in which disorganized electrical signals cause the heart’s upper chambers to contract irregularly, increasing the risk of stroke, heart attack, and heart failure.
Take a flu shot and wash your hands. Fever and infection stress the heart; avoid getting sick by getting a flu vaccination and keeping your hands clean. Also watch drinking or eating from someone else’s cup or plate.
Take a breath of fresh air. Unless there are air pollution alerts, get outside to clear your lungs. The exception: indoors and out, stay away from wood burning fires, as ultrafine airborne particles can be bad for the heart.
If you need help, ASK. Symptoms such as chest pain, dizziness, or pain in your arm or jaw should not be ignored. Heart attacks in women have a unique set of symptoms and are more likely to be fatal (one out of three women in America will die of heart attack or heart disease). Learn the warning signs: squeezing in the chest, nausea, shortness of breath, breast and arm. Call 911 for emergency help.
For more hands-on information, screenings, and to get some good exercise while you help raise money to fight heart disease, join me on Saturday, September 26, for the Atlanta Heart Walk. It’s fun and free, just sign up here.