The holidays are a time of kicking back and relaxing in whatever way you know best. But usually that includes a bit of overdoing – over-eating, over-drinking, over-smoking and over-indulgence in general. And of course under-exercising.

For most people, this just means a bit of letting loose. No big deal! You might just have to incorporate some exercise and a dietary change in your new year’s resolutions. But at the end of the day, it’s not a train smash.

However, for the group of people who have heart disease or have an increased risk of heart disease, it is unfortunately a different story. The holidays can actually be a time of increased risk. Studies show that you have a 3 times higher chance of suffering from a heart attack as well as a higher chance of it being fatal.

You may be thinking, but the stress levels go down during the holidays! And we know stress is a major contributor to heart disease. But if you really think about it, how stress-free is your December holiday? From organizing holidays away to dealing with family, there may be a lot of emotional stress that comes up during the holiday season.

What are the risk factors for heart disease (and how do I minimize my risk during the holiday season?)

  • Being male (nothing we can change about that one, sorry :/)
  • Obesity (especially having quite the ‘beer belly’)
  • Smoking
  • Alcohol
  • Having any comorbid conditions, like high blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes. (NOTE: The moment you’ve been diagnosed with any of the these conditions, you have it for life and you need to keep on taking your meds, for your own health and well-being).
  • Having family who experienced heart attacks/heart failure/strokes (yes, strokes are not just a ‘brain thing’ it’s actually a heart thing).
  • If you yourself have experienced any of the above before – even if you think it was a ‘light heart attack’.

Now what can you do about it?

The first way to minimize your risk is to avoid as many of the risk factors mentioned above.

On the other hand, if you already fall into the at risk category, not to stress! You simply need to be more aware of your health habits and avoid as many of the risk factors as you can. And most importantly, follow up with your doctor during the holiday, make sure you take your medication and go to the hospital immediately if you are experiencing anything that resembles a heart attack or stroke.

Better safe than sorry

By Dr. Jennifer Delport