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Reduce Your Risk for a Holiday Heart Attack

Holiday celebrations aren’t the only thing in full swing these next few weeks. In the United States and Canada, more people will die of heart attacks and heart disease than at any other time during the year. Between December and New Year’s Day, the cardiac death rate is 33 percent higher.

Snow shoveling and cold weather are factors but there are other reasons, as a Christmas Day heart attack is as likely in Hawaii as it is in Minnesota. Overindulgence and stress also contribute to the spike in heart-related deaths. When you understand why, you can take steps to reduce your risk.


It’s easy to overeat during the holiday season and tighter clothing isn’t the only consequence. Excess pounds can lead to many health problems, including high blood pressure and high cholesterol, both of which increase risk for heart attacks and heart disease. If you’re not starving when you arrive at a party, it will be easier to avoid overeating. Here are some recommendations from the American Heart Association to help prevent you from overindulging:

What you can do:

  • If the party is during lunch, eat a healthy breakfast (whole grain cereal, low-fat dairy products, lean meat, fruit) followed mid-morning with a high-fiber snack (apple or a small handful of almonds). If the party is after work, enjoy grilled fish or chicken with a salad at lunch and have another high-fiber snack in the afternoon.
  • Avoid loading up on foods that are fried, buttered or have a lot of cheese and cream. Look for fruit, veggies and dip and whole-grain crackers instead.
  • Split a dessert with someone. You can cut the calories and fat in half and avoid being wasteful.
  • Alternate consumption of alcohol and other high calorie beverages with a glass of water. This will help reduce your thirst while filling your stomach and you’ll consume fewer calories over time. It may also keep you from drinking more than you intended and becoming intoxicated.


Family obligations, financial pressures and travel often increase this time of year and with them so does stress. Stress hormones elevate blood pressure and heart rate. Particularly in people who already have high blood pressure and heart disease, stress can increase risk for a heart attack and other cardiovascular problems.

What you can do:

  • Recognize the symptoms of stress and take short breaks throughout the day to stand, stretch and breathe deeply.
  • Make a list of work and personal tasks according to priority.
  • Create a budget and stick with it.
  • Replace unhealthy coping strategies such as eating junk food, smoking or drinking alcohol with healthy behaviors including exercise, meditating or just talking with friends and family.

Most important in protecting your heart health this time of year is to not allow the hustle and bustle to delay you in getting medical attention at the first signs of a heart attack. Waiting until a family dinner or holiday party is over can have fatal consequences. With awareness, you can enjoy this holiday season and look forward to many more.

The LHSFNA has a developed a number of materials that can help Laborers make healthy choices in diet and exercise and manage their stress. These include Nutrition and Fitness for Laborers and Stress Management: Handle Stress the Healthy Way. Order these and other health and safety materials by clicking on Publications.

[Janet Lubman Rathner]

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