Mental health and financial challenges swell around Christmas, but does the stress and merriment of the season take a toll on one’s physical body?
The answer is yes, according to one of the first studies that looked at heart-attack registry data on a large scale. The authors of the research, published in BMJ in December 2018, explored whether time factors, such as national holidays, major sport events, hour of the day or day of the week could trigger a heart attack.
What Did the Study Find?
The researchers analyzed data for 283,014 heart attacks reported to the Swedish coronary care unit registry from 1998 to 2013. They found that Christmas and Midsummer (in June) were associated with a higher risk of heart attack, 15 and 12 percent respectively, compared to the control period.
In particular, Christmas Eve, had a 37-percent increased risk of heart attack, peaking at 10 p.m. Researchers suggest the reason is that Swedes do most of their celebrating on the 24th, so that’s when emotions will reach their peak. The data showed that people more that 75 years old and/or with diabetes and existing heart disease had the highest risk.
Another stressful time of day, Mondays at 8 a.m., posed a higher risk, as did New Year’s Day. On the other hand, New Year’s Eve, Easter and sporting events did not appear to increase heart attack risk.
What Does the Study Mean for Providers?
The authors recognize that the study is observational and therefore they can draw no conclusions about cause and effect. However, they do note that emotions like anger, anxiety, sadness, grief and stress have been found to increase risk of heart attack. Changes in lifestyle, such as more eating and drinking and less exercise, common around Christmas, can contribute, as well.
One of the biggest takeaways from the research that providers should raise awareness of this risks of Christmas and New Year’s to older folks and those with preexisting conditions. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also offer these tips to stay healthy over the holidays:
- Wash your hands often. To prevent flu, soap and water is more effective than hand sanitizer. And don’t forget to cover your cough.
- Dress warmly, in several layers, and stay dry. This is especially important for infants and elderly people.
- Manage stress. Try to get enough sleep and ask for help when you need it.
- Travel safely, especially if you’re driving. No drinking and driving, and follow-up car seat and seatbelt protocols.
- Get vaccinated. Providers should make sure that patients are up to date with vaccinations during visits around the holiday season.
- Prevent child injuries. Keep an eye on your kids and dangerous foods and items out of reach. Parents should know how to provide early treatment for a choking child.
- Prep food safely. Be aware of contamination, wash hands and surfaces often, and cook food to the proper temperature.
- Stay active. Shoot for 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity.
Holiday Health and Safety Tips, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.