Whitesburg KY

Death takes no break for holidays

The holidays and winter usually conjure images of gifts, family gatherings and frolicking in the snow, but winter has a more ominous side. Research shows an increase in deaths during the winter and, specifically, the holidays.

One study, by the Second National Registry of Myocardial Infarction (heart attack), showed that there were 53 percent more heart attacks during the winter as there were during the summer. The Christmas and New Year holidays — that is, the period between Dec. 25 and Jan. 7 — are even more perilous, according to an article in the American Heart Association journal, showing a significant spike in death rates. Christmas Day alone showed 12.4 percent more deaths than would be expected, even in winter.

Why? There are many reasons, from bad weather to holiday stress to natural body cycles.

You might have heard of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a depression that strikes during the short days and dark mornings of winter, but even the regular cold and flu season contributes respiratory illnesses to the increase in winter fatalities.

And a less-obvious cardiac killer: snow-shoveling. Every year, people who don’t exercise regularly or whose cardiac systems are compromised think nothing of hefting heaps of snow off of sidewalks and driveways — and end up in the emergency room. Snow-shoveling is a very taxing exercise, and should be treated as such.

On the social front, daily exercise and regular medication schedules are disrupted by travel, parties and bad weather. People experiencing early symptoms of a heart attack, or those who get sick while away from home, don’t want to spoil the holiday mood by seeking medical treatment. Everywhere we turn, there is a chance to overindulge in sweets, high-fat pastries, highsalt appetizers and meals, and, the biggest killer, too much alcohol. We overextend our schedule and fall victim to holiday stress.

As the weather is affected by the season, the body is affected by both. Colder temperatures increase blood pressure, and “bad” cholesterol — total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol and triglycerides — naturally peaks in December/ January.

Take care of yourself this holiday season, and don’t become a statistic. Here are some strategies to counteract the increase in winter deaths:

• Get a flu shot.

• Watch what you eat (not just calories and fat content, but sodium as well). You don’t need to abstain from holiday foods, only to maintain an overall picture of good nutrition.

• Get some exercise every day, even if it’s taking three 10-minutes walks or dancing in your living room. Have a plan in place to exercise while away from home, and an alternate plan for days when bad weather forces you inside.

• Don’t overextend yourself; say “no” when your schedule is too full, and reserve some time for just taking it easy.

• Stick with your medication schedule, and plan for delays when traveling.

• Be aware of the symptoms of a heart attack, and get help at the first sign of symptoms.

©2008 King Features Synd.

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