Winter weather can keep even the most social of us indoors and away from friends and families. Viruses and illnesses often make the rounds, impacting families, schools and coworkers. The chilly air can also pose a lesser-known threat: heart ailments. In some cases, cold weather can trigger cardiovascular events, including heart attacks, in people with existing heart conditions.
Studies have demonstrated these connections between cold weather and heart health:
- Hospitalizations and deaths from heart attacks peak when temperatures drop
- The risk of heart failure in existing heart patients increases four to five times in the winter
Working Hard to Keep You Warm
In cold weather, your heart must work harder to keep you warm. At the same time, low temperatures can cause blood vessels to narrow, resulting in restricted blood flow. That means important organs, including the heart, can become deprived of oxygen.
Older adults, and people with existing heart problems, are the most vulnerable to cardiac events triggered by cold weather.
As cold weather settles in, our community is at higher risk for cardiovascular events, particularly the elderly. Any vigorous activity in frigid temperatures can increase the stress on the heart and lead to chest pain, heart attack, palpitations or even heart failure.
Being prepared for cold weather and avoiding excessive activity could help reduce your overall risk for cardiovascular events.
Increased Risk of Illness and Complications
Winter can bring other problems, too. Individuals with heart problems are at an increased risk of chest infections like influenza and pneumonia. These serious illnesses can put extra strain on the heart — yet another reason to get your flu vaccine as early in the season as possible.
Warning Signs of Heart Problems
As you brave the cold, pay close attention to symptoms that may point to heart trouble. Warning signs include:
- Chest pain
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Profuse sweating
- Shortness of breath
If you experience any of these symptoms, especially if you have already been diagnosed with a heart condition, call 911 immediately.
Tips for Keeping Your Heart Safe in Cold Weather
Be prepared for the cold weather and stock up on groceries and warm clothing. It’s okay to ask for help from family or neighbors and take the steps you need to protect your heart health.
Your diet plays a huge role in maintaining your cardiovascular health. Load up on fish (such as salmon and sardines), nuts, berries and other fruits, legumes and antioxidant-rich veggies like sweet potatoes, red peppers, spinach and carrots.
The warmer your body is, the easier it is for your heart to pump properly in cold temperatures. Protecting your face can help minimize the impact of chilly air on your lungs. Wear a hat and wrap a scarf over your mouth so that the air you breathe is warm.
Get the Flu Vaccine
Flu, pneumonia and other chest infections can be a recipe for disaster in heart patients. To help protect against infection, be sure to always get your flu vaccine — ideally before winter sets in.
Modify Exercise Habits
Postpone your daily walk until the afternoon, when it’s warmer. If the forecast calls for sustained cold, it’s best to move workouts inside.
Also, it’s important to avoid overexertion. An ailing heart is already working harder than usual, so strenuous exercise in cold conditions can put a potentially dangerous strain on the cardiovascular system. Try light exercise, like yoga and stretching, instead.
Keep an Eye on Blood Pressure
Blood pressure tends to rise in winter, so it’s a good idea to monitor your levels frequently to ensure they’re staying within a safe range.
It’s important to take care of your heart all year long. Talk to your doctor about how you can modify exercises, diet and your lifestyle so you can continue to enjoy favorite activities, friends and family.