Why You're More Likely to Have a Heart Attack During the Holidays

A doctor shares advice for avoiding stress and staying healthy this holiday season.

The holidays may be a time of gift-giving and spreading good cheer, but according to a surprising new study, it's also when you're more likely to have a heart attack than any other time of the year. 

The Swedish study showed that 10 p.m. on Christmas Eve — right after a hearty meal — is the peak hour for heart attacks, while during the day on Dec. 24 sees a 37 percent higher risk of a myocardial infarction.

Inside Edition spoke to Dr. Jennifer Haythe, a cardiologist at Columbia University Medical Center, to learn why Christmas Eve can be so trying.

"Christmas Eve is a stressful time for adults — they're dealing with family maybe in town, relatives staying with them, there may be tension there, they have financial pressure to provide for people," Haythe said. "We know stress can increase risk of cardiac events."

Stephen Burkland, a 37-year-old retired Marine sergeant, died of a heart attack on Christmas Eve as he was goofing around in the front yard with his children. Though Burkland was overweight and had a family history of heart disease, the excitement of the family gathering on Christmas complicated matters. 

"When he started feeling bad, we were outside smashing into each other with these big balloon suits on. I think that was more stress than his body was used to," said Burkland's brother, David, who is a cardiologist.

So what can you do to avoid something similar happening to you? Haythe recommends taking it easy around the holidays as best you can. 

"Try to engage in low-stress activities. Take a nice walk, try to do some deep breathing," she said. "Relax."