Hard on the Heart: Winter Weatherand Cardiovascular Health

No matter how healthy you might be, it’s safe to say that winter can do a number on the human body. Aside from ice-induced falls and runny noses, evidence suggests that old man winter can likewise prove damaging to the heart.

Another Reason to Stay Warm

The colder the temperature gets, the more likely adults are to suffer a heart attack. This was the conclusion of a 2018 study, which examined over 84,000 heart attack victims. Specifically, the report found a two percent increase in heart attack risk for every 1.8° F (or 1° C) decline in temperature. This wasn’t the first research paper to identify a possible link between winter and heart attack risk; three years prior, another study documented a 31 percent spike in heart attacks during the winter season.

Unfortunately, the bad news doesn’t end there. Medical research has also found that those with a history of heart disease and heart attack, as well as senior citizens, could be especially vulnerable to winter-related heart trouble.

Why the Link?

There are a number of possible explanations for the relationship between cold weather and heart attack risk. For example, chilly temperatures cause blood vessels to constrict, thereby forcing the heart to work abnormally hard to supply blood through the body. As a result, many adults experience high blood pressure during the winter, increasing the likelihood of heart attack.

A second potential culprit could be the body’s own immune system. From December through March, the environment is rife with harmful cold and flu germs. The immune system attempts to protect the body from illness by releasing certain chemical compounds into the bloodstream. While such a reaction may hinder the spread of influenza, it may also spur the buildup of plaque on to artery walls.

Taking Precautions

So what can health-conscious adults do to prevent heart attacks in the middle of winter? The answer is actually quite simple – bundle up and stay warm. This means that you should routinely wear insulated hats and gloves during the coldest season of the year.

Another solid piece of advice is to avoid overtaxing yourself when shoveling; instead of furiously clearing your driveway of snow, try to shovel at a relatively steady pace. Those over the age of 50 who lead sedentary lifestyles may be best served by having someone else do their shoveling for them.

Finally, it’s always a wise move to eat smart during the holiday season. Keep your intake of alcoholic beverages and high-fat offerings to minimum.

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