Protecting Your Heart During the Winter Months
In Delaware County, we are no stranger to freezing temperatures. And with wintry weather on the way, our thoughts turn to the holidays and indoor activities.
It’s important to also think about keeping your heart healthy during the chillier winter months, especially if you have heart disease or other heart-related conditions. The risk of having a heart attack or stroke increases with the colder temperatures. Those most at risk include adults over 65, people with long-term health conditions, and people who are overweight.
As temperatures fall, our risk of heart attack and stroke climbs.
Cold weather causes the arteries in the heart to narrow, limiting blood flow to the heart. This can decrease the supply of oxygen-rich blood to the heart muscle, forcing your heart to work harder. A reduced supply of oxygen to the heart, along with increased demand, raises blood pressure and can cause a heart attack. In addition, our blood tends to thicken during cold weather — increasing the risk of stroke. This can be particularly dangerous for someone who has heart disease or other heart-related conditions.
Here are ways you can protect your heart and stay healthy, even when it’s cold outside:
● Stay warm inside and out.
If your house is chilly, especially if you have known heart disease, bundle up and stay warm. When you’re indoors, wear a sweater, warm socks, and slippers. Use extra blankets at night.
If you have a heart condition, limit the time you spend out in the cold weather, and when you do go outside, wear layers of clothing. A few thin layers can keep you warmer than one thick layer. Wear a hat, scarf, and gloves to maintain your core body temperature — the temperature of your internal organs, such as your heart. Dressing in layers is also beneficial because if you get too warm, you can remove a layer.
● Be extra careful about shoveling snow.
Snow shoveling is a risk, even if you have no history of heart disease. It’s especially risky if you don’t get regular physical exercise. Snow shoveling — and even snow blowing — are strenuous activities, increasing your heart rate and your body’s need for oxygen. At the same time, the cold air can cause the arteries to tighten up, putting a significant strain on the heart.
If you have heart disease or high blood pressure (hypertension), ask your doctor if it’s safe to shovel snow. You might consider asking a friend for help or hiring someone. If you do your own shoveling, take five or 10 minutes to warm up your body and improve blood flow. Stay hydrated, work slowly, and take frequent breaks. Shovel many small, lighter loads instead of fewer heavy ones.
Go inside right away if your chest starts hurting, you feel dizzy or short of breath, or your heart starts racing. If you think you are having a heart attack, call 911.
● Stay active.
Regular exercise is essential for keeping your heart healthy. Physical activity has the added benefits of relieving stress, preventing weight gain, and boosting our immune system, which helps our body fight infections like the flu and COVID-19.
But when the temperatures drop, many of us retreat indoors and become less active. If you usually exercise outdoors, it’s challenging to feel motivated to exercise during the cold, darker winter months. Consider indoor activities, such as dance, yoga, or online exercise classes at home.
● Get the flu and COVID-19 vaccines.
Staying current with your vaccinations is important if you are older or have heart disease. Vaccines strengthen your immune system, reducing your chances of getting ill, which can exacerbate conditions such as arrhythmia and coronary artery disease.
● Schedule and keep up with regular appointments with your cardiologist (heart specialist) to discuss your current heart health.
If you have heart disease, high blood pressure, or other heart conditions, it’s important to continue your treatment plan and maintain heart-healthy habits no matter the season. If you would like to talk to a heart specialist, the Crozer Health Heart Team can help. Call us at 1-866-957-8573 or schedule an appointment today.