Winter months can be hazardous for your heart health. In fact, there is some evidence of a higher incidence of cardiovascular events in the winter. At the Lown Group, we are very aware of these higher risks as well as the obstacles to maintaining good heart health during the winter months. Let me explain the reasons why there are more cardiovascular events during the winter season:
Weather. Cold weather causes blood vessels to constrict and this can increase blood pressure. In addition, blood may be more likely to clot, and this can be exacerbated by dehydration. Cold, dry air and dry heat increase the likelihood of dehydration, and people are less likely to take in enough fluids when the weather is cold.
Stress and Depression. We know that stress plays a role in cardiovascular events, and winter stress can be explained by several coincidental issues. Short days, long nights, lack of sunlight, and end of the year stressors – such as family, finances, holidays, and isolation – can all contribute to mood changes, depression, and heightened stress.
Food. The food we eat is diﬀerent during the winter months. We tend to look for comfort foods that are salt – loaded and high in energy – dense carbohydrates.
Exercise. People tend to exercise less during the winter. Energy levels are lower and the shorter days and longer nights add to fatigue and diminished motivation. However, we also tend to overexert ourselves at times when it is most dangerous – such as shoveling early in the morning after a snowstorm. Many people add an exercise routine or gym membership to their New Year’s resolutions, but there is a tendency to do too much too quickly rather than gradual, consistent exercise.
Infections. Viral illnesses, like the ﬂu, may add to the risk of cardiac events. This is thought to be related to inflammation, which makes our blood vessels more vulnerable to cholesterol plaque rupture, causing blood clots to then form in blood vessels.
Despite the strain the winter months can put on your heart, there are some easy, effective steps you can take to winterize your heart health.
Dr. Bilchik was recently interviewed on CNN where he discussed the health hazards related to the recent heavy snow in the Northeast.
- Have an exercise plan and stick to it. Your exercise routine should be consistent, and it can help you prepare for the winter’s physical stressors such as shoveling.
- Be active socially. Socialize around an activity like dancing, walking, biking, or going to the gym. Don’t “meet to eat”, that is, your social activity should not be solely focused on food.
- Be aware of your calorie (energy) intake. Portion size, salt intake, and dehydration are all factors that can lead to poor heart health. Monitor your winter weight and your winter blood pressure.
- Avoid excessive alcohol consumption. This can create additional burdens to your heart health, because of its impact on depression, lack of energy and motivation, sleep interruption, and dehydration.
- Don’t ignore your symptoms. A pain in the arm or chest while shoveling may not be a muscle strain. If you notice an unusual symptom or soreness, it’s a good idea to check in with your doctor.