Fitness

Heart attacks increase during winter holidays

Posted Nov. 30, 2010, at 4:48 p.m.
Last modified Dec. 01, 2010, at 1:16 p.m.
Deaths due to heart attacks increase during the winter months, beginning right after Thanksgiving and peaking around New Years Day. The American Heart Association urges people in northern climates to dress warmly and avoid unaccustomed exertion such as -- you guessed it -- shoveling snow.
Associated Press
Deaths due to heart attacks increase during the winter months, beginning right after Thanksgiving and peaking around New Years Day. The American Heart Association urges people in northern climates to dress warmly and avoid unaccustomed exertion such as -- you guessed it -- shoveling snow.

The American Heart Association says the incidence of deaths from heart disease rises rapidly during the winter holiday season. Deaths related to coronary artery disease tend to rise rapidly right after Thanksgiving, continuing through Christmas and peaking around New Year’s Day, the organization says. Several factors may influence this  trend, including an increase in respiratory infections during the winter and a greater workload on the heart from activities such as shoveling  snow.

Individuals with existing heart disease or who have suffered a stroke are at the highest risk, but people with a strong family history or cardiovascular disease, those with high blood pressure or high cholesterol, smokers, and those who are overweight or habitually sedentary are also more likely to suffer a holiday heart attack.

The AHA recommends the following tips to help respond to and prevent sudden cardiac arrest during the winter months:

Avoid sudden cold-weather exertion Snowstorms present particular challenges for everyone, primarily because getting rid of the snow usually means sudden exertion in cold weather. In and of itself, snow shoveling can be healthy, good exercise, but not if you are normally sedentary, are in poor physical condition, or have other risk factors that make shoveling snow inadvisable. Everyone who must be outdoors in cold weather should avoid sudden exertion such as lifting a heavy shovel full of snow. Even walking through heavy, wet snow or snowdrifts can strain a person’s heart.

Recognize the symptoms of hypothermia Hypothermia occurs when your body can’t produce enough energy to keep your body warm, causing your internal temperature to fall below normal. Hypothermia can cause heart failure and kill you. Symptoms include a loss of physical coordination, mental confusion, slowed reactions, shivering and sleepiness. Children, the elderly and those with heart disease are at special risk. As people age, their ability to maintain a normal internal body temperature often decreases. Because elderly people seem to be relatively insensitive to moderately cold conditions, they can suffer hypothermia without knowing they’re in danger.

Individuals who choose to be outside in cold or snowy conditions should take care to dress warmly and limit physical activity in keeping with their overall health and fitness.

Source: American Heart Association

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