Analyses & Studies

Seven tips to keep your heart healthy over the festive period

Many people may be surprised to learn that more people die from heart attacks during the last week of December than at any other time of the year. The exact reason for the surge in “holiday heart attack” is not fully known but probably due to a combination of factors, including excessive alcohol intake, lack of physical activity and overindulgence in food. Ways to stay healthy and reduce the risk of a heart attack during the festive period include the following: 

  1. Keep active- It’s easy to become sedentary over the holiday period but keeping active allows your body to recover more easily from a heavy meal and helps reduce stress. The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes of physical activity per week. Creative ways to stay active during the festive period include going for a family walk between dinner and dessert or engaging in other fun physical outdoor activities with your loved ones.    

  2. Avoid snacks in between meals or choose healthy snack options instead- It’s best to avoid snacking in between meals altogether if possible as this can cause weight gain and ruin your appetite for the main meal. If one has the need to snack, some healthy options include nuts, carrots or fresh fruit. Avoid high carb foods or processed sugar in between your meals. 

  3. Eat healthily- The main Christmas dinner can still be tasty and healthy at the same time if you eat lean meat and avoid saturated fats, excessive oils and salt. Avoid canned and processed food and try to cook with fresh ingredients where possible. 

  4. Avoid Alcohol or drink in moderation if you must- Excessive alcohol can cause palpitations and trigger some heart rhythm conditions, such as atrial fibrillation which can lead to a stroke. If you have a history of a heart condition or palpitations, it’s best to avoid drinking. 

  5. Keep well hydrated and drink plenty of water- Dehydration from soda, sugary drinks, and alcohol can put a toll on your body. Try to drink water regularly and stay well hydrated, especially if it is very warm in your home. 

  6. Be aware of symptoms of a heart attack and take appropriate action- Typical symptoms of a heart attack include sudden severe chest pain or tightness or discomfort in your jaw or arm. Some patients experience sudden difficulty in breathing or excessive sweating or nausea. If you have any of these symptoms and have cardiac risk factors (such as high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol levels or are a smoker) you should seek medical attention urgently. 

  7. Don’t forget your medication and doctor’s advice- if you are known to have a heart condition, remember to take your medication regularly as advised by your cardiologist and stick with the appointments and check-up plan. If you will be travelling, be sure to take enough medication with you and not run out when overseas. 

In summary, you can still enjoy all the festivities and have fun whilst remaining healthy over the Christmas period if you stay active, eat healthily, and avoid excessive alcohol intake. Be mindful of the symptoms of a heart attack which is more common during the festive period. 


by Dr. Reginald Liew, Senior Consultant Cardiologist, The Harley Street Heart and Vascular Centre 




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