It is the gloomiest holiday statistic, but Christmas and New Year’s are on the top list of dangerous days for heart-attack deaths and cardiovascular problems.

“Research shows that cardiovascular deaths increase about 18 percent during the winter season,” says Harvard-trained cardiologist Cynthia Thaik, M.D. There are several factors during the holiday season that seem to be hard on the heart and cause you to become more susceptible to chest pain, racing heart rates, heart-attacks or sadly even death.

The added stress of the holiday season combined with colder weather, shorter and darker days, being indoors more often, and all of the rich holiday foods and drinks play a huge role in increasing a person’s risk of cardiac problems during the winter.

Research shows that heart attacks are more deadly in the winter time regardless of the area you live in. It is not the cold climate alone that can kill you, even though the cold weather can make blood vessels constrict causing blood pressure to rise and the heart to work harder.

The risk of cardiovascular problems is greater this time of year due to a combination of all factors mentioned above, which all of us experience during the holidays. Therefore, here are some strategies for you and your loved ones to stay healthy this winter season:

  1. Get a flu shot, if you haven’t already. Recent research shows that getting a flu shot can reduce a person’s risk of heart problems by as much as 50 percent.
  2. Keep warm. Wear layers of clothes when you step outside to help keep warm, remember that the cold weather can make your blood vessels constrict.
  3. Don’t forget your medications. Several people tend to slack off on their medications during the holidays. Make sure you continue following your existing medication regimen.
  4. Maintain good habits. With all the holiday celebrations and rich foods everywhere make sure you keep good eating habits and regular exercise routine.
  5. Don’t be an early bird! Several people may try to get up earlier to try and start their day since it gets dark out sooner. However, Thaik suggests keeping early morning activities to a minimum during the winter because the heart takes time to warm up.
  6. Never ignore warning signs. Even if it’s Christmas Day make sure to never ignore warning signs of a heart attack.