[This was the best summary article on factors related to heart attacks in winter months]
Heart Health in Winter
The holiday season is a time that usually gladdens our hearts as we gather with friends and family. But it’s also a time when our own hearts are under additional stress.
During winter, the rate of deaths and hospitalizations for heart disease and stroke can increase by more than 50 percent. A recent study in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association found that the rate of heart-related deaths (as well as deaths from other causes) rose sharply between Dec. 25 and Jan. 7, and peaked on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.
There are many reasons why winter is hard on the heart. These include:
Shorter days. Darker hours can upset the balance of heart-related hormones, increase levels of stress hormones such as cortisol, and lower the threshold for a cardiovascular event.
Cold. The human body is accustomed to a balmy 98.6 degrees. Lower temperatures can cause arteries to tighten, which reduces blood flow and oxygen to the heart.
Disrupted routines. In winter, many people tend to shift chores to earlier in the morning, which increases their risk of a blood-pressure surge associated with heart attacks and strokes. If you have pre-existing heart problems, a strenuous activity such as snow shoveling – especially at a time of day when you are usually inactive — can increase your risk of a cardiovascular event.
Flu. You might think that that living in a warmer climate would offer greater protection than living in a cold climate. But the fact is that increases in winter heart attacks also occur in places such as Florida and Southern California. That’s because flu strikes everywhere in the United States and causes inflammation, which can make arterial plaque less stable and trigger a heart attack.
Stress. For many people, the holidays are associated with increased stress caused by family issues and financial responsibilities. Levels of pre-existing anxiety and depression – both of which are associated with heart attacks and strokes — can peak for some people during the holidays.
Too much holiday cheer. During the holidays, people often and eat more, drink more, smoke more, sleep less, and gain weight. They also tend to neglect their exercise routines, depriving themselves of the many benefits of exercise such as stress reduction.
Too much exercise, too soon. Every New Year’s Day, millions of people join gyms as a resolution to get in shape. But if they’ve been sedentary and have risk factors for heart disease, a sudden burst of activity can put too much strain on the heart. When adopting a new exercise program, everybody – including those without risk factors for heart disease – should start slow and only gradually increase their level of activity.