Winter brings a surge in colds and flu but did you know winter is also the prime season for heart attacks? According to the Second National Registry of Myocardial Infarction (heart attacks), winter is the top season for heart attacks, followed by fall, then spring, then summer. There were 53% more heart attacks in winter than in the summer. To put this in perspective, there are twice as many heart attacks per day in January than in July, which is the safest month. Interestingly, heart attacks peak in July in Australia which is winter-time there.
A report in the Dec. 13, 2004, issue of Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association found that the rate of heart disease-related deaths rose sharply between Dec. 25 and Jan. 7. The three peak days for heart attacks are Christmas Day, the day after Christmas and New Year's Day. Winter heart attacks tended to be more serious with a 9% fatality rate and research suggests that winter heart attacks produce more damage to cardiac muscle than those in any other season.
Chest discomfort. Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest. It can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain that lasts more than a few minutes. Discomfort can also go away and come back.
Discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
Shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort.
Other signs may include breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.
Women may also experience chest pain but they are more likely than men to experience shortness of breath, nausea or vomiting and back or jaw pain.
Theories abound, but there no definitive answers as to why heart attacks are more common during the winter than other months. Harvard Men's Health Watch looked at potential causes for this seasonal trend. The most common reasons appear to be:
• Cold weather: When a person gets cold, the body's automatic response is to conserve heat. It does it by narrowing the blood vessels to cut down blood flow and heat loss through the skin. This narrowing or constriction of arteries increases blood pressure and further strains the heart which is already working harder to maintain body heat. And for people who already have partially blocked arteries from plaque build-up, the narrowing of the blood vessels can further restrict blood flow and supply of oxygen to the heart muscle triggering a heart attack.
Precaution: Wear a hat and windproof and waterproof outer clothing. Place a scarf over your mouth and nose to warm up the air that you breathe in. Wear layers of clothing. Bundling up will help maintain your body heat and help keep your blood flowing freely.
Studies have shown that heart attacks occur more frequently in the morning hours. There is an early-morning surge in blood pressure which increases the risk of having a heart attack or stroke. To make matters worse, people tend to exert themselves with household chores in the morning hours in the winter because of shorter days. This increases the heart rate, the blood pressure and the chances for a cardiovascular event.
• Snow shoveling: Heart attack rates jump dramatically in the first few days after a major snowstorm due to snow shoveling. One study found that 7% of winter heart-attack victims in one Canadian hospital had been shoveling snow. Shoveling is a strenuous activity which raises your blood pressure and heart rate. It causes the heart to work harder and increases its demand for oxygen. This, coupled with narrowing of arteries due to cold weather, dramatically increases heart attack risk.
Precaution: If you do not exercise regularly or have a heart condition, avoid shoveling. Get help or invest in a snow blower. If you must shovel, push rather than lift the snow as much as possible because it is less strenuous. Stay warm and take frequent breaks. Before you go out, check your pulse rate by counting it out for 30 seconds and multiplying it by two. Shovel for just 15 minutes and then rest and let the body recuperate; go back inside after 15 minutes and return when your pulse is back to normal. Don't overdo it. Also, refrain from having a cup of coffee or smoking during your break because caffeine and nicotine add burden on the heart. And, don't jump out of bed and get right to shoveling your driveway. Take some time to warm up by stretching or walking before you start.
• New Year's Resolutions: Every year, millions of people join gyms or start exercise programs as part of their New Year's resolution to get in shape. This is a great idea, but it is important not to overexert yourself. The cardiovascular system can adapt to slow and progressive changes, but does not like abrupt changes.
Precaution: Starting a new routine gradually is less stressful on your body and you are more likely to stick to it. Start an exercise regimen under the supervision of your doctor if you have heart disease risk factors. Talk to your doctor about what your heart disease risk factors are.
• Holiday Season: People tend to eat more, drink more, and gain more weight during the holiday season and winter months. Gluttony is unwise. Salt and alcohol can raise blood pressure, while fatty foods can boost cholesterol, interfere with relaxation of the arteries and may also activate the clotting system. Even one rich meal can adversely affect blood vessels and spell trouble for people with coronary artery disease. The holiday season can also be a very stressful time for some people. It can intensify financial pressures, cause anxiety, loneliness, and depression. These are all linked to heart attacks.
Precaution: Moderation is the key. Keep a watchful eye on your diet and avoid binging on fatty foods or alcohol. Make sure you are not skipping on any medication you may take for your physical health or psychological well-being.
• Less daylight: Less daylight in the winter can cause cabin fever, lower energy levels, worsen mood problems, increase depression risk and alter hormonal balance. The condition is known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD). There is increase in secretion of cortisol, the "stress hormone," during times of physical or psychological stress which can increase the risk for a cardiovascular event.
According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, between 4% and 6% of people in the United States suffer from SAD. Another 10% to 20% may experience a mild form of the condition in late fall or early winter.
Precaution: SAD is treatable. Treatment for seasonal affective disorder includes light therapy (phototherapy), psychotherapy and medications. Get away and take a trip to sunnier and warmer places in winter if possible. Plan activities to stay busy and begin or intensify exercise. Exercising releases endorphins and elevates the mood. Members of fitness centers make friends, feel good about doing something positive for themselves and get out of the house.
• Flu: A flu infection can increase blood pressure and cause inflammation that can trigger a heart attack. Inflammation can make plaque deposits in your arteries less stable which may dislodge and block the flow of blood to your heart.
Precaution: People at high risk for the flu should get an annual flu shot. It can cut your heart attack risk in half.
In terms of preventing a heart attack this winter, knowledge is the greatest tool. Being aware and listening to your body for cues to possible trouble is very important. Know your strength. Do not over-exert, over-push, over-reach or over-indulge. And never ignore the warning signs of a heart attack. Have a safe winter season.
You don't have to sacrifice flavor to save money on food. And you don't have to eat the same thing over and over again to pinch pennies. This may go against conventional wisdom, but you can take simple steps and some planning to eat heart-healthy meals and stay within your budget.
Let's first talk about the basic pillars of healthy eating:
It starts with purposeful grocery shopping. Always plan ahead to avoid wasting money on impulse buys or last-minute trips to the supermarket for missing ingredients. Try the following shopping tips:
There really are no magic formulas to eat a heart-healthy diet. However, following these tips will go a long way to live a longer and healthier life on a tight budget.
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Environmental wellness may not readily come to mind when one thinks of an overall wellness plan, but how we feel and interact with our environment can be critical to how we feel overall and the quality of our environment.
Many people are unconcerned or simply uninformed about what they can do to help the environment. They may think, "How much difference can one person make?" Each of us can lead a lifestyle that maximizes the purity of our water, air, and soil that enhances the quality of our living conditions.
Environmental wellness has two important aspects: living in harmony with the earth and its species and taking steps to minimize any negative impact from our actions, and protecting yourself from environmental hazards, e.g., air, water and noise pollution, ultraviolet radiation in the sunlight, hazardous chemicals, second-hand smoke, etc.
Signs of Good Environmental Wellness:
Stop your junk mail - Americans receive almost 4 million tons of junk mail every year and about 44 percent of junk mail is never even opened. If 1 million people stopped their junk mail, we could save up to 1.5 million trees a year. Contact the major senders of junk mail and have them take you off their lists. Try stopjunk.com or privatecitizen.com.
Snip your six-pack rings - According to a 1987 Associated Press story, marine scientists and environmentalists claim that an estimated one million seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals are killed each year by six-pack rings and other plastic material they mistake for food. Dolphins swallow plastic bags and suffocate. Birds dive through six-pack yokes and strangle themselves. More than 260 marine species can ingest or become entangled in discarded debris, among them turtles, birds, mammals, and fish. Snip circles of six-pack holders before you throw them into the garbage.
Dispose cigarettes/cigarette filters and fishing equipment properly – Cigarettes and cigarette filters account for nearly 30% of all marine debris. Add in crab and lobster traps, nets, and related equipment, fishing gear accounts for almost half of all entanglements. Put all cigarette filters in allocated cigarette extinguishers or if fully extinguished, the garbage and dispose fishing equipment properly.
Don't leave your water running - A running faucet uses three to five gallons of water per minute. Having your tap running while washing dishes uses an average of 30 gallons, brushing teeth - five gallons, and washing your car at home – can use up to 150 gallons of water. Turning water off while brushing your teeth will use only a half gallon of water and it is better to fill up a basin of water while doing dishes instead of letting the water run. When washing your car, either take it to a self-service car wash, or use a shut-off nozzle on your hose when washing it at home. This can save more than 100 gallons of water.
Use recycled paper bags or cloth bags when shopping – Most plastic shopping bags are not biodegradable and don't disappear in the earth. Plastic bags that wind up in the ocean can kill marine life that swallow or get tangled in them. First, consider if you really need a bag before asking for one and try to bring your own cloth bags or reuse old bags that you have from previous shopping. Plastic bags are also the second most common marine debris item.
Always be aware of what you pour down the drain - Used cooking oil, motor oil or prescription drugs are a no-no.
Wellness involves making choices and adopting
a way of life that helps you achieve balance
across seven key areas:
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