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    Preventing Winter Heart Attacks

    Winter is high time for heart attacks. Before you go out to shovel snow or start your new exercise routine, learn about your personal heart attack risk.

    Knowledge, Moderation Are Key continued...

    "Start slow," he cautions. "The cardiovascular system can adapt to slow and progressive changes, but it has a much more difficult time adapting to sudden changes."

    ASHI's Leahy agrees. "When you go to shovel snow, do it for just 15 minutes at a clip and then let the body recuperate," she says. "Don't overdo it, especially if you are not used to any exercise."

    Before you go out, check your pulse rate, she says. Here's how: "Count it out for 30 seconds, multiply it by two, and go out and shovel," she says. Your pulse will quicken when shoveling. "Go back inside after 15 minutes and then return when your pulse is back to normal."

    But "don't go inside and have a cup of coffee or smoke a cigarette when you warm up because caffeine and nicotine just put that much more burden on the heart."

    Exercisers, Revelers Are Also at Increased Risk

    It's not just shovelers who run the risk of taxing their heart in the winter. Every Jan. 1, millions of people join gyms as part of their New Year's resolution to get in shape -- and many may overexert themselves too soon.

    "There is no question that exercise is good, but exercise that the body is not prepared to handle is not good," UCLA's Watson says. "Start an exercise regimen under the supervision of your doctor if you have heart disease risk factors, and even if you don't, start slow." Beginning your new routine gradually is not only less taxing on your body, but it's also is easier to stick to. And talk to your doctor about what your heart disease risk factors are.

    It's also important to watch what you eat and drink during the winter months, experts tell WebMD. "People eat more, drink more, smoke more, and gain more weight during the holiday season," Watson says.

    And "the other thing is that the holiday period is very stressful in terms of family issues it may bring up and financial pressure, she says. Anxiety and depression tend to peak for some people around the holiday season and are also linked to heart attack and stroke.

    The bottom line? "If you know have risk factors for heart disease like high cholesterol and high blood pressure, see your doctor and make sure you are on the right regimen and treatment plan," she says.

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