Winter is near for Northern Michigan and that means the temperatures will drop and the snow will fall. A study in the journal JAMA Cardiology found that heart attack rates increase most when the temperature dips below freezing.

Alpine Cardiology shoveling snowIf you have a heart condition or are older, you may be vulnerable in winter months. It is harder for older people to regulate their own body temperature. This puts them at higher risk in extreme weather.

How does Cold Weather Affect the Heart?

Freezing weather can put stress on the body and affect your heart in number of ways. The cold can cause our bodies to make certain adjustments in order to maintain our core body temperatures. These normal adjustments could be a challenge for people with heart disease. Cold temperatures can cause:

  • Alpine Cardiology - checking temperatureYour blood pressure to increase.
  • Heart rate increases
  • Your heart to work harder.
  • Blood thickens in chilly weather and may lead to blood clots.

The winter months are when people have more colds and flu. A recent study showed that the risk of a heart attack was significantly higher in the first 7 days after an infection. Colds, flu, or pneumonia cause infections in the lungs and will make your heart work harder.

Alpine Cardiology - exercising

Do not Hibernate!

Regular exercise is still important for your heart health even when the seasons change. Instead of walking outside when it is below freezing, walk at a mall or big box store. Take a class in yoga or other exercise or swim at an indoor pool. Regardless of the temperature outside, you still need to add movement to your daily life. Take the stairs, walk the hallways during breaks or exercise at home with a DVD or YouTube video.


Cold Weather Precautions

Alpine CardiologyBesides the obvious of wearing warm clothing when heading out in the cold there are other precautions you can take to protect you and your heart in cold weather. Cover your mouth and nose with a scarf to help warm the temperature of the air you breathe. If you must dig out of the snow, ask for help. If help is not available, shove small loads instead of lifting heavy loads. Take frequent breaks inside and warm up and drink plenty of water.

You also want to be careful not to become overheated. Dressing warmly then engaging in physical activity can lead to overheating. If you are out in the cold and find yourself sweating, you are over heated. If you have heart disease, consider this to be a danger sign. Stop what you are doing and go inside and take a break.

Other Precautions to Take

Alpine Cardiology - Flu VaccineYou can also help prevent heart problems that come in the winter months by building up your body’s defense against colds, flu, and other infections.

  • Get a flu shot every year
  • As your healthcare provider if you should get a vaccine for pneumonia
  • Wash your hand often with soap and water.
  • Get at 7-8 hours of sleep a night
  • Do not smoke
  • Exercise regularly

Know the signs of a heart attack

Alpine Cardiology - EMS

Call 911 if you have any of these most common symptoms

  • Chest pain
  • Pain in one or both arms
  • Pain in the back, shoulders, neck, jaw, or upper part of the stomach (may be mistaken for indigestion)
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sweating
  • Nausea and vomiting

Talk to your Healthcare Team

If you are not sure how healthy your heart is, talk to your doctor. They can understand your risk and advise you on the proper precautions for you.

Knowing your risk factors and taking the right precautions will help you stay healthy and heart strong.