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Holidays, cooler weather can invite health problems

Dec. 20, 2012 @ 10:24 PM

Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson), the demonic writer in Stanley Kubrick's "The Shining," convinced pretty much everyone that winter can be a treacherous time. And while his troubles were fictional, real emotional and physical challenges do pile up for most folks, pre- and post-holidays.

No matter where you live -- Los Angeles or Boston -- heart-attack rates increase during the winter, peaking between Christmas and New Year's. (Mondays are, year-round, the prime day.) It's not the cold, per se, that gets you; it's the dip in local temperatures that constricts blood vessels. Add to that the fact that you exercise less, eat more inflammation-promoting (comfort) foods and have to contend with holiday-linked financial and family stress, and you're vulnerable. Seasonal stress plus inflammation can trigger plaque ruptures and chunks of fatty deposits lining arteries enter the bloodstream, causing heart attack and stroke.

So, we've got a package of solutions to the mental and physical stresses you may face.

GENERAL HEALTH: Get that flu shot. It saves lives. Stay hydrated (hard to remember when you're not hot and sweaty). Dehydration affects your energy level, brainpower and heart health. Drink five to eight glasses of water a day.

OUTSIDE? Warm up with stretches before outdoor activity. And when the outdoor air is cold, cover your mouth with a scarf so that as you breathe in, you warm the air before it hits your lungs.

STRESSED or DISTRESSED: Focus on holiday pleasures (not commercialism), keep gift-giving simple and volunteer to help others. It's de-stressing to give.

Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of "The Dr. Oz Show," and Mike Roizen, M.D. is Chief Medical Officer at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute. For more information go to www.RealAge.com.

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