Tag Archives: heart health

Study finds risk of heart attacks rises nearly 40 percent on Christmas Eve

Credit: Flickr, Simon Matzinger.

Credit: Flickr, Simon Matzinger.

Do you know that the risk of a heart attack increases on Christmas Eve around 10 p.m.? This is especially true among older or sicker people.

Recent publication from the SWEDEHEART group

A new study in Sweden was published using data from a national database that collects information about all acute cardiac patients in the country, known as SWEDEHEART. The BMJ publication by a team of investigators from Lund University (Moman A Mohammad, Sofia Karlsson, Jonathan Haddad, Björn Cederberg, Sasha Koul, David Erlinge), Danderyd’s University Hospital (Tomas Jernberg), Uppsala University (Bertil Lindahl), and Örebro University (Ole Fröbert) analyzed data on 283,014 heart attacks that took place in the country between 1998 and 2013. As previous studies have, they found that heart attacks happened more frequently in the early morning hours (before 8 am) and on Mondays. They also noted that the risk of heart attacks spiked during the holiday season, with a peak at 10 pm on Dec. 24 — the day when most Swedes hold their Christmas family gatherings. Heart attacks were 37% more likely to happen on Christmas Eve than during the control period and 20% more likely on New Year’s Day. Throughout the week between Christmas and New Year, heart attack risks were 15% higher than other days of the month of December.

So why is this happening?

“We do not know for sure but emotional distress with acute experience of anger, anxiety, sadness, grief, and stress increases the risk of a heart attack,” said researcher David Erlinge, of Lund University’s Department of Cardiology. “Excessive food intake, alcohol, long distance traveling may also increase the risk.”

Increased salt and sugar intake from all the holiday parties or getting less sleep and exercise could be the culprits. It is possible that family members visiting relatives after a long time apart, find them in a poor health condition and decide to admit them to hospitals. Similarly, people might delay reporting symptoms and seeking care to not disrupt the holiday celebrations which is why we would expect lower cases before Christmas than afterwards. However, the absence of any decline before or after Christmas means that these behavioral aspects are not the main contributing factors to the observed peak of myocardial infarction on Christmas.

Is this phenomenon only in Sweden?

Sweden is not the only country where this phenomenon has been observed. In 2004, cardiologists in Los Angeles, California noted an increase in heart attacks and other acute cardiac episodes during the period between Christmas and New Year’s Eve. Researchers suggest that this association could be explained by the possibility that people often delay medical treatments or doctor appointments during the holiday season. Likewise, a publication in the European Journal of Epidemiology showed that myocardial infarction rates went up in Kuwait, a predominantly Muslim country during Islamic holidays.

Avoid the “Merry Christmas Coronary” and “Happy New Year Heart Attack” 

All these studies remind us of the importance to check in with our doctor if we haven’t, especially before the holiday season and notably if you have risk factors for heart disease. Don’t spend the “most wonderful time of the year” in a hospital. Learn the symptoms of heart attack: chest pain, shortness of breath, sweating, and nausea. Women, however, may experience different symptoms including abdominal pain, pain in one or both arms, and unusual fatigue.

Heart Attack Signs and Symptoms | US CDC


Constant physical exercise reverses damage done to the heart by aging and sedentary lifestyle

Exercising regularly seems to have a remarkable rejuvenating effect on the heart, according to a new study performed at the University of Texas Southwestern and the Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas. Researchers say moderate physical exercise can reverse the effects of sedentarism and aging which can cause problems like heart failure, provided you do it often enough.


Credit: Pixabay.

The team investigated the effects of a training regime consisting of four to five workouts per week, each session lasting around 30 minutes plus warm-ups and cool-downs.

For the study, researchers recruited 53 middle-aged volunteers aged 45 to 64 who self-reported having a sedentary, lazy lifestyle. The participants were separated into two groups: one whose exercise program included moderate and high-intensity workouts, the other where participants performed weight training, balance work, and yoga.

During the first three months, the participants performed only three moderate exercise sessions per week. Once they built enough stamina, two high-intensity aerobic intervals were added to the first group.

At the end of the two-year study period, the differences between the two groups were strikingly clear. Those who had performed aerobic exercises showed an 18 percent improvement in their maximum oxygen intake during exercise and a more than 25 percent improvement in compliance, or elasticity, of the left ventricular muscle of the heart — the chamber that pumps oxygen-rich blood back out to the body. Those who did the yoga and weight sessions, however, did not show improved heart health.

One of the participants, aged 55, exercising on a treadmill. Credit: UT Southwestern.

One of the participants, aged 55, exercising on a treadmill. Credit: UT Southwestern.

The “winning” aerobic regime looked something like the following:

  • One of the weekly sessions included a high-intensity 30-minute workout, such as aerobic interval sessions in which heart rate tops 95 percent of peak rate for 4 minutes, with 3 minutes of recovery, repeated four times (a so-called “4 x 4”).
  • Each interval session was followed by a recovery session performed at relatively low intensity.
  • One day’s session lasted an hour and was of moderate intensity. (As a “prescription for life,” Levine said this longer session could be a fun activity such as tennis, aerobic dancing, walking, or biking).
  • One or two other sessions were performed each week at a moderate intensity, meaning the participant would break a sweat, be a little short of breath, but still be able to carry on a conversation — the “talk test.” In the study, exercise sessions were individually prescribed based on exercise tests and heart rate monitoring. The goal is to break a sweat but not get out of breath.
  • One or two weekly strength training sessions using weights or exercise machines were included on a separate day, or after an endurance session.

“Based on a series of studies performed by our team over the past 5 years, this ‘dose’ of exercise has become my prescription for life,” said senior author Dr. Benjamin Levine, Director of the Institute and Professor of Internal Medicine at UT Southwestern. “I think people should be able to do this as part of their personal hygiene – just like brushing your teeth and taking a shower.”

Dr. Levine, shown here in front of his laboratory's hyper/hypobaric environmental chamber which simulates performance in environments such as space or deep diving. Credit: UT Southwestern.

Dr. Levine, shown here in front of his laboratory’s hyper/hypobaric environmental chamber which simulates performance in environments such as space or deep diving. Credit: UT Southwestern.

Such benefits can be reaped as long as people start regularly exercising before age 65, a time when the heart still retains some plasticity and ability to remodel itself. The most important thing is to exercise frequently, the researchers stressed in the journal Circulation. Two to three times a week was not enough, the researchers found in a previous study. The intense workout was also extremely important, Levine said, even if it was just once a week.

“When the muscle stiffens, you get high pressure and the heart chamber doesn’t fill as well with blood. In its most severe form, blood can back up into the lungs. That’s when heart failure develops,” said Dr. Levine, in a statement. 

The authors also recommend diversification in the training regime so there’s a lower risk of getting bored and missing workouts. Tips include: performing the kind of exercise you have access to, do something enjoyable (tennis, basketball, ping-pong, etc.), alternating between low and high impact (cycling vs swimming, for instance). It’s also best to keep it simple if you don’t want to get overly complicated about it. Most of the volunteers who saw a marked improvement in their heart health chose to run, walk, or cycle.

“I think people should be able to do this as part of their personal hygiene – just like brushing your teeth and taking a shower,” Levine said.