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'Tis the Season - for Heart Attacks

In the United States, there are greater than 50 percent more heart attacks in winter months than in summer months, and it's mostly about stress and diet.

According to results gathered by the Second National Registry of Myocardial Infarction (heart attacks), winter was the top season for heart attacks, followed by fall, then spring, then summer. The December issue of the Harvard Men's Health Watch looks at potential causes for this seasonal trend.

SnowflakeLeading causes?

In the cold, blood vessels constrict to help conserve body heat. Narrowed vessels also mean higher blood pressure, which puts additional strain on the heart.

In colder climates, people tend to exercise less when temperatures dip and snow and ice are common. Another weather related problem: snow shoveling. Snow shoveling is heavy exercise that can tax the heart of those who aren't normally active.

Studies show that cholesterol levels peak in the winter months.

A high-fat holiday meal can interfere with relaxation of the arteries and may also activate the clotting system, which can spell trouble for people with coronary artery disease. Also, excess alcohol intake can increase blood pressure and contribute to heart rhythm abnormalities.

Despite its reputation as joyous time, many people feel depressed or overly stressed during the holiday season. Depression and stress are associated with a higher risk of heart attack.

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The Harvard Men's Health Watch reminds men to keep warm and shovel snow with extreme care, or pay someone to do it. Avoid overindulging during the holidays, and reduce stress by seeking comforting social connections during this busy time of year.

The Harvard Men's Health Watch is available from Harvard Health Publications, the publishing division of the Harvard Medical School, for $24 per year. Subscribe at http://www.health.harvard.edu/men or by calling 1-877-649-9457 toll-free.

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