You're More Likely To Have A Heart Attack During This Time Of Year

Stress, poor diet, and a lack of exercise can all contribute to an increased risk of heart attack. However, these lifestyle habits may not be the only risk factors. Research shows us that the highest rates of heart attack tend to occur during one season in particular: winter.

In response to the chilly weather that creeps in during the winter months, our blood vessels shrink, reports the American Heart Association (AHA). This blood vessel constriction hinders circulation, making one more prone to heart attack. But it's not just the falling snow and frigid air that contributeto this susceptibility. While popular songs proclaim it to be "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year," the holiday season appears to be an additional risk factor. In fact, experts at Temple Health state that rates of cardiac death increase by 5% during this time of year. There are a number of things thought to potentially play a role in this link. For example, in the midst of holiday celebrations, many of us tend to indulge in greater amounts of sweets, cocktails, and larger meal portions, all of which can boost our risk of heart attack. Additionally, while this time of year may be rife with joy and merriment, there's also a fair amount of stress that comes with it.

The greatest number of cardiac deaths occur on Christmas Day

From cooking to shopping, hosting, traveling, and more, it's easy to become distracted and forget to get in those 8 glasses of water each day. "The holidays are a busy, often stressful, time for many of us," Dr. Mitchell S.V. Elkind, American Heart Association Chief Clinical Science Officer, told the AHA Newsroom. "Routines are disrupted; we may tend to eat and drink more and exercise and relax less. We're getting too little sleep and experiencing too much stress."

Experts have further narrowed down the data surrounding heart attack risk during the holiday season to one specific day: Christmas Day. In a 2004 study published in the scientific journal Circulation, researchers found that rates of cardiac death are highest on December 25, with December 26 following close behind. New Year's Day is the third day out of the whole year during which the greatest number of cardiac deaths occur. The researchers based these findings on the number of deaths upon arrival at the hospital, the number of patients that died in the emergency room, or those who died as outpatients. The study team used death certificate data from the National Center for Health Statistics. In addition to stress, cold temperatures, and eating habits during the holidays, the researchers note that many people also tend to postpone medical appointments until after the holidays have passed.

Protect your heart health during the holiday season

Urgent care clinics are generally less busy during the December holidays, but admission numbers are shown to quickly rise right afterwards (via Circulation). Receiving routine medical care annually is an important part of maintaining our health. This sentiment was echoed by Ohio resident Bob Vaccaro, who, in 2022, experienced a heart attack on Christmas Day and received life-saving care from EMTs, reported ABC News 5 Cleveland. In telling his story, Vaccaro emphasized the importance of reaching out for help if something feels off.

Experts at the Oklahoma Heart Institute agree. Seeking medical care if something doesn't feel right is among their top tips for protecting your heart health during the holidays. That, and not postponing any scheduled check-ups. Additionally, be mindful of food intake, as heart attack risk is higher within one hour following a big meal. Minimizing strenuous activities is also advised. Our calendar can fill up with social events in the blink of an eye during December. Therefore, anything that can be cut out, consider declining the invitation in order to prioritize rest. This also goes for physically strenuous activities, like shoveling your walkway, which can put strain on the heart. Finally, if you're traveling by car or have a toasty fire going on inside, remember that air pollution can make one more susceptible to heart attack, so be sure you're getting plenty of fresh air.