The holidays are a time for celebrating with family and friends, but often stress inhibits our abilities to enjoy the holiday season.  From shopping to cooking to events, we are often packing our schedules while forgetting about our health.

A 2016 report in the Journal of the American Heart Association noted that heart-related deaths spike during Christmas.  While more research is needed to pinpoint the exact reason, researchers suggest that emotional stress, changes in diet and alcohol consumption, less staff at medical facilities and changes in physical environment (i.e. visiting relatives), could play a role in the spike in deaths.

In order to protect your heart and enjoy more holidays with your loved ones, follow these tips to stay healthy and happy this season:

  1. Maintain healthy habits. Even though our schedules change during the holidays because of travel and events, it’s important to maintain regular healthy habits.  For instance, eating healthy, balanced meals, moving more every day, and getting at least seven hours of sleep each night.
  2. Beware of party perils. Special holiday events could mean extra helpings of not-so-healthy meals.  Try eating a healthy snack, such as a big salad or vegetable soup, before a party to avoid overindulging later. If you’re hosting or bringing a dish, offer healthier options using American Heart Association recipes and cooking tips found at heart.org.
  3. Give yourself the gift of peace. It’s okay to say no to invitations when you have too much going on. If you start to feel overwhelmed, recharge by doing something that relaxes you, such as yoga, meditation or going for a brisk walk.
  4. Make a plan for the New Year. When all the parties are over, the winter blues set in.  Instead of feeling down, challenge yourself with realistic, sustainable goals for a healthy, happy New Year! For example, start a walking routine and sign up for your local Heart Walk to stick to your goals.

While avoiding stress and making good choices can help prevent heart disease and stroke, the nation’s No. 1 and No. 5 killers, it’s still important to know what to do if you or a loved one experiences the signs and symptoms of heart attack, stroke or cardiac arrest.  The 2016 Journal report noted that patients hold back in seeking medical care during the holiday season, which could also explain the spike in deaths.

If you or a loved one experiences the warning signs of heart attack, stroke or cardiac arrest, don’t delay, call 9-1-1 immediately.

Heart Attack Warning Signs:

  • Discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes, or that goes away and comes back. It can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain.
  • Discomfort in other areas of the upper body, including pain or 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 into a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.
  • Call 9-1-1 immediately if experiencing any of these symptoms.

Stroke Warning Signs:

  • Face Drooping. Does one side of the face droop or is it numb? Ask the person to smile.
  • Arm Weakness. Is one arm weak or numb? Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
  • Speech Difficulty. Is speech slurred, are they unable to speak, or are they hard to understand? Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence, like “the sky is blue.” Is the sentence repeated correctly?
  • Time to Call 9-1-1. If the person shows any of these symptoms, even if the symptoms go away, call 9-1-1 and get them to the hospital immediately.

Cardiac Arrest Warning Signs:

  • Sudden loss of responsiveness. The person does not respond to tapping on shoulders.
  • No normal breathing. The victim does not take a normal breath when you tilt the head up and check for at least five second.
  • Call 9-1-1 immediately and start hands-only CPR by pressing hard and fast in the center of the chest.

For more healthy living tips, visit the new Healthy For Good website at healthyforgood.heart.org For more information about heart attack, stroke and cardiac arrest, visit www.heart.org/warningsigns. To learn more about CPR, visit cpr.heart.org.