While many people associate cold weather dangers with hypothermia or frostbite, there’s more to it. According to Northwestern Medicine, falling temperatures increase risks for heart attacks. It can create dangerous combinations of cardiovascular risks, so it’s important to take steps to protect yourself.
Like heart transplant waiting lists, winter heart health is a supply and demand issue. Cold weather can decrease the flow of oxygen to your heart, while making your heart work harder and demand more oxygen. The inability to meet this demand for oxygen creates heart attacks. So what can you do to align your respiratory system and heart?
Over a full winter, you’ll probably need to shovel your property of snow at least once. This is almost unavoidable, but that doesn’t mean you need to do it alone. If you live with family, see if they can help you clear the snow. Alternatively, see if you can make an arrangement with a neighbor. You can help them clear their snow or offer to cook them dinner in exchange for help. If you do have to do it yourself, make sure to pace yourself, take breaks, and don’t push yourself if your body is telling you to stop.
Of course, you’ll want to stay warm, but not too warm. If you overheat, your body will need to release the heat, but wearing too many layers can prevent that. When your body can’t release heat, blood vessels dilate. This lowers your blood pressure and reduces your heart’s blood supply, setting you up for a heart attack. So dress in layers, but if you feel yourself overheating, remove one or two to restore a normal body temperature.
If you’re already at risk for heart disease, influenza can push you over the edge. The flu causes a fever and increases your heart rate, which increases your heart’s demand for oxygen. It can also dehydrate you, lowering your blood pressure and oxygen supply. To safeguard against this, consider getting a flu shot, and practice sound hygiene by regularly washing your hands with soap and water and staying fully hydrated throughout the winter months.
By caring for your heart this winter, you can increase your odds of being around for the next.