Tips from the University of Ottawa Heart Institute on how to stay heart healthy through the holiday season

OTTAWA, December 13, 2011 /Canada NewsWire/ - The holiday season tends to see an increase in cardiac events, with distinct spikes around Christmas and New Year's Day, according to U.S.-based studies. While the exact reasons for these trends are not known for certain, a number of factors appear to contribute to the 'Merry Christmas Coronary' and 'Happy New Year Heart Attack' phenomenon.

"People may delay getting treatment so as not to make a fuss over the holidays," says Dr. Andrew Pipe, Chief of the Division of Prevention and Rehabilitation at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute. "Overeating, drinking too much alcohol, reduced exercise, emotional stress associated with the holiday season, among other things, can all contribute to the onset of a cardiac event such as a heart attack or arrhythmia over the holidays," he added.

While a large proportion of patients who experience holiday heart attacks have a known condition that predisposes them to this risk, many who are afflicted may not have been aware that they were at risk.

The Heart Institute offers the following tips that all Canadians can heed to enhance heart health over the festive season:

Be generous. Helping those less fortunate is an important holiday tradition…and very good for the heart!

Keep moving, but don't over exert yourself. Take time to exercise…a daily walk can be both relaxing and health enhancing! Take your dog for a walk every day - even if you don't have one! But avoid over exerting yourself physically through activities such as heavy snow shoveling, especially if you have known risk factors (e.g. smoking, high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol levels) or a family history of heart disease.

Be merry. The holidays can be stressful. Schedule some 'down time' (maybe during that daily walk!)

Watch what you eat and drink. Enjoy the season's pleasures…but in moderation. Avoid excess salt, fatty foods and too much alcohol. Excess alcohol intake is associated with atrial fibrillation - a common disturbance of heart rhythm which can increase the risk of stroke, heart attack, and heart failure.

Get the flu shot. It's always a heart-healthy choice, especially if you are over 65 or have known heart disease.

Make some changes. The New Year might be an appropriate time to consider making changes that will contribute to your health, such as eating more sensibly, exercising more regularly, and most important of all: stopping smoking.

When in doubt - find out! If you feel chest pain or other symptoms, don't delay in calling 911 for emergency help. Don't postpone investigation of unusual symptoms because you don't want to spoil the holiday celebrations.

About UOHI

The University of Ottawa Heart Institute is Canada's largest and foremost cardiovascular health centre dedicated to understanding, treating and preventing heart disease. We deliver high-tech care with a personal touch, shape the way cardiovascular medicine is practiced, and revolutionize cardiac treatment and understanding. We build knowledge through research and translate discoveries into advanced care. We serve the local, national and international community, and are pioneering a new era in heart health. For more information, visit www.ottawaheart.ca.