As the festive season unravels, many people are enjoying the year-end festivities with social gatherings and vacations. However, a shadow lurks beneath the surface. The prevalence of heart attacks increases over this period. Discover why heart attacks spike during the festive period as Bloom Financial Services and Momentum Health4Me address the complex interplay of factors that contribute to this type of cardiovascular disease, including diet and stress levels.
What is a heart attack?
A heart attack is a life-threatening medical event that occurs when a blocked coronary artery hinders blood flow to the heart. A heart attack can result in death or permanent damage to the heart muscle. Common early warning signs and symptoms of a heart attack include:
- Intense chest pain, especially in the left arm or shoulder
- Shortness of breath
- Profuse sweating
- Feeling dizzy or lightheaded
You must get medical attention as soon as possible if you suspect that you or someone close to you is in danger of having a heart attack or is experiencing a heart attack. There are preventive measures you can take if you’re at risk of having a heart attack or stroke. These include making certain lifestyle changes, taking medication, having surgery – like a coronary artery bypass to restore blood flow to optimal levels or stent replacement.
Understanding the factors that contribute to heart attack increase
The Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa confirms that heart attacks, strokes and heart failure claim the lives of more than 200 South Africans a day; and the prevalence of heart attacks increases exponentially over the festive season. Some of the reasons for this increase include the following:
1. Poor diet
- Indulgent eating habits during festivities: during the festive season, many people tend to overindulge, eating rich, high-calorie foods that are typically reserved for these special occasions. This poses a risk if you are overweight or have risk factors, like high blood pressure or high cholesterol. The sudden influx of calories, saturated fats, and sugars can contribute to weight gain and elevated blood pressure, increasing the strain on your cardiovascular system.
- High salt, sugar, and fat intake: festive meals and treats are often laden with excessive salt, sugar, and unhealthy fats. High sodium levels can increase your blood pressure, while excessive sugar and unhealthy fats contribute to inflammation and cholesterol imbalances, further escalating the risk of cardiovascular issues.
- Excessive alcohol consumption: celebratory gatherings will often involve alcohol consumption. Excessive drinking can lead to high blood pressure, irregular heartbeats, and an increased risk of heart attack and stroke.
2. Stress and emotional factors
- Emotional stress: festive family gatherings and social events can cause a great deal of emotional stress. High expectations to produce a perfect holiday, unresolved interpersonal conflicts, and festive-related pressures can all contribute to heightened stress levels, triggering the release of stress hormones that impact the heart negatively.
- Financial stress: the financial strain of holiday expenses, like gift-giving, travel, and hosting events, can also induce stress. Financial worries can elevate your cortisol levels, impacting blood pressure and heart health. This is particularly high risk for those individuals with a predisposition to cardiovascular disease.
3. Physical inactivity
- The link between exercise and heart attacks: regular physical activity is crucial for maintaining cardiovascular health. The absence of exercise during the festive season can result in decreased blood circulation, weakened heart muscles, and a higher susceptibility to cardiovascular events, like a heart attack.
- Disruption of regular exercise: the festive season often disrupts exercise routines due to travel and the relaxed holiday atmosphere. This can lead to weakened cardiovascular fitness, and a decline in overall heart health.
- Sedentary behaviour: extended periods of inactivity, which is quite common during celebrations, can contribute to a sedentary lifestyle. Prolonged sedentary behaviour is often associated with obesity, insulin resistance, and an increased risk of heart disease.
Tips to reduce the risk of heart attacks during festivities
If you’re at risk for cardiovascular disease, like a heart attack or stroke, you can engage in some methods to stay safe over the festive season. This includes:
- Mindful eating. Be conscious of your portion size and, where possible, opt for healthier food choices, like fruit, vegetables and lean protein. Moderate your intake of sugar, high-fat and alcohol.
- Stay hydrated. Keep well by drinking plenty of water. December is a hot month in South Africa and sugary drinks and alcohol can leave your body dehydrated.
- Moderation is key. Everyone deserves a treat but it’s all about balance. Choose portions of your favourite dishes but don’t overindulge.
- Manage stress. Stress and anxiety have been linked to cardiovascular disease. Practice stress-reduction techniques, like calming breathing exercises, yoga or meditation.
- Stay active. Find opportunities to keep active during the festive season. Incorporate these into your festivities like dancing, team sports or games.
- Prioritise sleep. Insufficient sleep or poor sleep quality can contribute to stress and obesity, which is linked to cardiovascular health.
- Regular check-ups. If you are at risk of having a heart attack or stroke, or if you suffer from cardiovascular disease, it’s advisable to have regular check-ups with your healthcare provider to monitor any changes in your condition.
- Educate yourself. Make sure you and your loved ones are fully aware of the signs and symptoms of a heart attack. Have a practical plan of action in place, like emergency numbers and health insurance details on hand.
Heart health assessments with Health4Me
All the Health4Me Gold, Silver and Bronze plans will provide members with one annual heart health assessment that is conducted at a participating pharmacy clinic. The assessment includes a blood pressure check, cholesterol and blood sugar finger prick test; and a weight measurement test. All these check-ups provide information about your heart health. Knowledge is power and early detection is key to recovery so it’s advisable to have the annual check-up to identify any risk factors or heart health concerns. This way, you can make lifestyle adjustments to decrease your risk, undergo treatment or embark on a management plan that can be monitored by a healthcare practitioner.
Get healthcare cover from Momentum Health4Me
Committing to a heart-healthy lifestyle is the best way to decrease your risk of a heart attack. Stick to regular exercise activities, make smart lifestyle choices, take measures to reduce stress, watch your diet and get annual check-ups. Get health insurance coverage from Bloom Financial Services. Contact our team of trained consultants and get a free quote for you and your family.