While winter months mark gifts, family get-togethers and preparations for the arrival of a new year, they are also known to bring with them an increase in the number of heart-related problems.

Weather-Related Heart Attack
Experts have long advised that cold weather is bad for the heart. A dip in the temperature causes arteries and blood vessels to constrict, which increases blood pressure and reduces the amount of oxygen that gets to the heart. This is particularly bad since, in cold weather, the heart requires more oxygen to maintain body heat.

The winter months also bring a change in the amount of daylight received, which can interfere with the hormonal balance. Fewer hours of light is also associated with seasonal affective disorder and depression, which can trigger a heart event. While the chill and frost outside makes you ditch your exercise routine and diet, fatty food and alcohol get prominence. People usually tend to add on more weight during the holiday season and take in more salt and sugar, which further deteriorates a weakened heart.

Whether it’s the cold outside or the oodles of fat you are enjoying during the holidays, here are six simple ideas to keep your heart pumping this winter.

1. Get A Flu Shot
Winter flu can trigger inflammation, which is directly associated with heart attacks. Inflammation can disrupt the arterial plaques and dislodge them, which results in artery blockage and, eventually, a heart attack. People at a higher risk of flu, especially adults over the age of 65, infants and pregnant women should compulsorily get a flu shot. It is highly recommended that heart attack survivors also get themselves vaccinated against the flu.

2. Stay Hydrated
The cold weather doesn’t initiate thirst as often as during summer. However, dehydration can plunge the body into a state of shock which can affect the heart negatively. According to the American Heart Association, keeping the body well-hydrated helps the heart to pump blood more easily through the blood vessels to the muscles.

3. Eat A Balanced Diet
While there is no escape from the stuffed turkey, buttered potatoes and pudding or gingerbread, one must not forget that these foods are high in saturated fats, salt and sugar which are all triggers for a heart attack. Make sure to detox your body after a holiday meal and keep a check on your eating habits. Fresh vegetables (spinach, asparagus, broccoli), fish (salmon and tuna), nuts (almonds, walnuts) are all rich in heart-healthy nutrients. Nuts are especially packed with monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs), which control blood sugar, cholesterol and reduce belly fat.

4. Indoor Exercises
Don’t feel like going for a run in the cold weather? No problem! You can get a good amount of exercise indoors as well. Indoor exercises and yoga can be a great way to get your heart pumping without setting foot in the gym.

5. Ease The Load
Unusual physical exertion such as shoveling snow is also a known trigger for heart attack. Studies suggest that shoveling snow in the early morning hours is known to bring a drastic spike in blood pressure and therefore put unnecessary strain on the heart.

6. Battle The Blues
Seasonal depression can lead to added stress during winters, which can affect your health. How can you be positive? Take part in fun winter activities. Get out and take a stroll and soak up some sunlight. This will not only help you battle depression, but also give you the much-needed body stretch.

Don’t take heart symptoms lightly, especially during the winter months. If you experience a severe, throbbing pain in the chest that doesn’t seem to go away, visit your doctor immediately.