The holidays are a special time of year but attempting to harness all that holiday cheer into a single month can lead to overeating, stress, and a lack of sleep. These things are all interrelated with stress from trying to fit it all into your schedule and finding the perfect gifts can make it harder to exercise, sleep, or eat right. All of these factors can increase your risk of heart attacks or heart problems this time of year. You simply need to be realistic with what you can handle, have realistic expectations, make some time for stress relief including exercise, and get to bed on time to reduce this risk. If you are eating out, portion control is huge. No appetizers or dessert and eating only 2/3 of the entrée is usually a reasonable amount of food. If you will be at someone’s house, check out the dessert before you start your meal so you can judge whether a second helping or dessert will best fit in your normal number of calories. You know how much food you normally put on your plate the other 300 days out of the year, don’t overdo it because the “you from the future” on January 2nd would want you to be satisfied and not stuffed during the holidays.
People also are less likely to take their medications when they are preoccupied with other activities or they are getting home later and disrupting their normal routine. The double whammy of poor lifestyle choices and not taking your medications can increase the risk of heart attacks. Heart attacks are more likely to occur on Mondays, when you are first getting up in the morning, and peak in December and early January. If you feel chest pain or pressure, please do not wait until after Christmas to call your doctor or go to the hospital. People getting to the emergency room with a heart attack have a 70% reduction in their risk of disease if they get there within 1 hour but only a 17% reduction if they get there 6 hours afterwards. It is much better that you disrupt a party for one day than have to deal with the aftermath of a major heart event because you didn’t get prompt treatment.
A main culprit is patients not remembering to take their medications and taking in too much salt. Over the rest of the year, they are preparing their own meals and are salt restricted but when they are eating at parties or at restaurants more often the excess salt stresses the heart and they can worsen their disease. If you know you are cooking for people with heart failure of hypertension this holiday season, add less salt during the cooking process and let people add additional salt at the table if they want to.
Michael White; Dept. Of Pharmacy Practice, UConn School Of Pharmacy