Flu shots are effective – lowering your risk of contracting a nasty influenza virus by at least 60 percent. According to a surprising new study, flu shots might also spare you from a heart attack, stroke, or even death.

Researchers analyzed six studies of more than 6,700 adults and discovered that those who got a flu shot were 36 percent less likely to suffer a major cardiovascular event within the next year. The vaccine had an ever bigger impact among participants who'd recently had a heart attack and were therefore at serious risk of suffering another. People in this high-risk group who'd been vaccinated had a 55 percent lower chance of a second heart-related event than those who'd skipped the shot.

Doctors have long suspected there was a link between the flu shot and cardiovascular health, and now they have proof, says lead study author Dr. Jacob Udell, a cardiologist at the University of Toronto. "There's something about influenza that hurts the heart, because within a week after people come down with the flu, there's a huge spike in heart attack and stroke risks," he says. "Now we're pretty sure that's due to inflammation."

According to Udell, when we get the flu, our entire body becomes inflamed. That inflammation, in turn, can cause the plaque that has built up in our arteries to dislodge and form a blood clot, leading to a heart attack or stroke. By getting the vaccine, if you do become infected with influenza, your body will be better prepared to mount an immune response and zap it before potentially dangerous inflammation takes hold.

"If we can prevent inflammation with the flu vaccine, we can hopefully prevent serious heart troubles from occurring," Udell says. "I sincerely hope these findings offer more ammo to convince people to get flu shots. Anyone who doesn't like the pain and soreness the shot causes won't like a heart attack very much either."