Is it something of a Christmas miracle that Santa isn't long dead from a heart attack?
In the United States, 50 percent more heart attacks occur in winter - defined as November through January - than in summer, according to WebMD.com.
Holiday-related stress makes Thanksgiving through New Year's Day the most popular time of year for heart attacks.
"Stress makes us do some unhealthy things, like eat the rest of the pumpkin pie after everyone leaves or skip a morning walk because we're tired from too much eggnog the night before," said Dr. Ray Georgeson, a cardiologist at Iredell Memorial Hospital in Statesville.
Along those lines, stress increases heart attack numbers in two related ways, Georgeson said: "By decreasing healthy behaviors and by increasing risky behaviors."
Rick Petitt, a former emergency medical technician now with Carolina CPR Professionals said, "People do more of the things that can lead to heart attacks while preparing for larger gatherings over the holidays, including eating more high-fat foods, just eating more in general, drinking more alcohol and smoking more cigarettes.
"At the same time, they cut back on some of the things that can help prevent heart attacks, like extra exercise."
Morning is a particular concern. Rushing off to finish holiday shopping or get the turkey in the oven can make some people forget to take their blood pressure medication and that's when most heart attacks happen, according to WebMD.com.
Blood pressure tends to be highest in the morning. If medication is getting your heart past that morning surge, skipping it can have dire consequences, especially after a night of drinking, smoking and cheesecake.
Stress is one of the most difficult heart attack risk factors to eliminate from our lives. And for people with high blood pressure (hypertension), it's crucial to do so.
Petitt offered these simple tips to remember while attending social and family gatherings:
Slow down - Take one minute to breathe deeply; take five and call a friend; take 15 and walk around the block.
Be aware of your actions - Alternate alcoholic beverages with water; eat a vegetable serving for each dessert you plan to consume; go to bed early the night before a celebration.
Savor - Remember the holidays will be over soon, so embrace the aspects you love and ....
Avoid your stressors. Let someone else drive; shop online to dodge crowds; make lists so you feel in control.
"If you see someone collapse and suspect a heart attack, call 911 immediately," said Petitt. "CPR class is the best training for a heart emergency. However, there are still things a friend or family member can do while waiting for emergency workers to arrive.
"Place the heels of your hands on the victim's chest - right in the middle, at nipple height - lock your elbows, and push down hard and fast on the chest, about 2 inches, and then release all the way up," said Petitt. "Find a rhythm of about 100 beats per minute, thinking of an upbeat song."
"Don't be afraid to touch a victim. By simply doing hands-only heart compressions (you) can keep the blood circulating while waiting for emergency services to arrive." Petitt said.
For more information about Carolina CPR Professionals' services, call 704-562-0089 or visit www.carolinacpr.com.