Winter may be the cozy season of white snow, hot chocolate, and warm blankets, but for some people, winter can be dangerous. That’s because your risk of having a heart attack increases as the temperatures drop.
Year-round, heart disease is the number one cause of death in the United States. Understanding why cold weather puts you at risk of developing heart problems can help you stay safe this winter and protect your heart for years to come.
How Does Cold Weather Affect the Heart?
One way or another, frigid temperatures can cause physical strain on everyone’s body. Lower temperatures cause your blood vessels to narrow, which increases your blood pressure. Since blood forces itself through a smaller pathway, your heart has to work harder to push blood throughout your body. This leads to higher blood pressure and other issues with your heart and circulatory system.
High blood pressure is a “silent” disease that supports the formation of blood clots. Blood clots are serious—they can halt blood flow to the heart or brain, causing a heart attack or even a stroke. High blood pressure can also cause:
- Blurred vision
- Chest pain in cold weather
Winter is also cold and flu season; studies show that these infections can increase your risk of a heart attack by changing your heart rhythm and blood volume. It turns out that getting a flu shot can help protect you against heart attacks, too! To guard yourself against these common winter illnesses, practice these healthy behaviors:
- Wash your hands. Lather up frequently to prevent the spread of germs and infections.
- Get 7–9 hours of sleep each night. Adequate rest keeps your body in tip-top germ-fighting shape!
- Clean your phone regularly. Do you realize how dirty that thing can get?
- Eat a well-balanced diet. Fruits and veggies boost immune function!
- Stay away from sick people. Let’s face it, sharing germs is just gross!
Heart Issues That Worsen in Winter
The heart is already the hardest working muscle in the body, so it’s a good idea to do all you can to avoid putting more stress on it.
High blood pressure can also exacerbate other conditions such as coronary heart disease, which may cause some people to experience discomfort or chest pain in cold weather. Cold weather diminishes the supply of oxygen-rich blood to your heart and, coupled with a heart condition, increases your chance of a heart attack or another cardiovascular issue. That’s why patients who have a history of some of the following conditions or procedures are at higher risk in the winter:
- angina chest pain
- bypass surgery
- heart attack
Additional Risk Factors To Consider
When it comes to heart and circulation issues, there are some additional risk factors to keep in mind:
- Family history—Genetics play a big role in whether you will eventually develop heart disease.
- Age—Your risk of developing heart disease increases as you age, and men are twice as likely to have a heart attack than women.
- Health habits—You can help safeguard your winter heart health by maintaining a healthy weight and avoiding smoking. People who smoke regularly or don’t maintain a healthy body weight are more likely to suffer from heart disease since these factors add strain to an already hard-working heart.
- Activity level—In snowy weather, you may perform more strenuous physical tasks than usual, like shoveling or walking through significant amounts of snow.
Ways to Maintain Your Winter Heart Health
It may go without saying, but the warmer your body is, the better blood flow you’ll have through your blood vessels! You can accomplish this in a few ways.
- Wear warm clothing that will maintain the heat around your body when heading out into the cold. But a word to the wise—don’t wear clothing that will constrict blood flow by being too tight. After all, the whole point is to increase blood flow throughout your body! Proper layering is essential to stay warm and maintain blood flow. Accessorize with gloves, hats, scarves, and warm socks.
- When being active in cold conditions, go slow and take it easy. However, don’t hibernate! Stay consistent with the exercise routines you practice in the warmer months. Exercising without over-straining your body will help regulate your body temperature.
- If you are working or exercising outdoors, go indoors frequently. Give yourself breaks to warm up if you’re spending longer than normal periods of time out in the cold.
- Most importantly, pay attention to your body. Make sure you don’t already have high blood pressure by receiving an annual physical. Even if your blood pressure is normal, if you start to experience headaches, blurred vision, pain in your extremities, or chest pain in cold weather, go inside immediately.
Raise Your Awareness, Not Your Blood Pressure
Turns out Jack Frost doesn’t just nip at your nose—he enjoys nipping at your heart too! Since cold winter weather increases your risk of heart and cardiovascular issues, it’s important to practice winter heart health all season. An annual physical is a great way to get a baseline assessment of your heart health. vybe urgent care makes it easy to come in and start a preliminary heart health screening.
FIND YOUR VYBE
You can get a blood pressure test at all vybe urgent care locations. Our experienced team of healthcare professionals will perform the test and make recommendations based on the number. High blood pressure and low blood pressure are both very manageable, and early detection is key.