Holidays and Hearts – Why Are They Linked?

We often tell people that we feel “crappy.” The phrase conjures up images of excessive excrement or intestinal problems, but also has resonance with the word “crapulence” which was revived from the Latin “crapula” in the 17th century. Then it was used to describe the illness caused by overeating and drinking.

As it turns out, the illnesses most linked to overeating actually spike at the time when people overeat the most.

People die from heart disease with a striking seasonal variation. Deaths spike in December and January.

It’s not just heart disease! Blood clots, aortic ruptures, strokes, brain hemorrhages, high blood pressure and two different serious heart rhythm problems are all increased during the winter. Serum cholesterol levels are also higher in the winter than they are in the summer, vitamin D levels are lower, physical activity drops and rates of obesity go up! It’s not just the cold weather. It even happens in Hawaii.

Lifestyle in winter takes a back seat, people stress out and overeat. They drop their regularly scheduled exercise activities and overeat on foods like cakes, pies, brownies, cookies, fruit cake (OK, nobody really eats fruitcake … I take that one back), ham, egg nog and other obviously unhealthy foods.

The response to this information is surprisingly small. In the US, up to 30% more people are dying in the winter months than are dying in the summer, but we give platitudes about staying warm and sticking to your routine.

Perhaps a better set of advice would be to stop celebrating with bad food. Imagine if for decades and decades people had celebrated Christmas by going without seatbelts for a month! Would we shake our heads knowingly and talk about what a tragedy it was and then drive off unbelted ourselves?

Poor exercise habits and unhealthy food are bad for you all year long. We just seem to collectively stop worrying about it for a month while we spend time worrying about doing other things.

Entire industries exist solely to deliver unhealthy foods like butter cookies, chocolate-covered popcorn and fruitcake (oh, yes, nobody eats it … I forgot) during these two months.

Trust me, no European butter cookie tastes as good as avoiding a bypass surgery feels!

So don’t opt out of the holiday festivities and fun. Don’t avoid gift giving. Don’t stay away from your friends or family. But please don’t give yourself a pass to eat food that you would avoid any other time of the year. It’s not any better for you now. The crapulence you avoid this winter could make this the happiest time of your life.

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