How cold weather is a heart-health risk

Cold weather is something you cannot escape unless you're fortunate enough to live in an area with a mild climate. Exposure to cold temperatures puts a strain on the heart and cardiovascular system. But here's how to combat it.

How cold weather is a heart-health risk

Who's at risk?

  • Older people are particularly vulnerable to cold — partly because they may be less able to detect a drop in temperature, and partly because many of them cannot afford to heat their homes effectively.
  • In response, our blood vessels tend to constrict, increasing blood pressure as well as making blood more likely to clot.
  • At the same time, the body's demand for oxygen increases to try to maintain body temperature, so supplies to vital organs such as the heart may be insufficient.
  • This helps to explain why there are more deaths from heart disease in December and January than in June and July.
  • Other heart problems, such as heart failure (where the heart isn't pumping strongly enough), also peak in winter.

Protect yourself

  • Ideally, try to keep your house heated to between 18° and 21°C (64° and 70°F) in the winter, and remember to dress in warm clothes.
  • Keeping active and eating a healthy diet will also help to protect you.

Avoid extremes

  • Avoid sudden changes in temperature. Going from a warm, centrally heated house out into the cold without being properly insulated can be especially dangerous.
  • Try to avoid a sudden increased level of exertion. People tend to exercise less during the colder months, so their general level of fitness may be reduced.
  • If you really have to go outside to clear snow from your driveway in the morning — the peak time for heart attacks — do the minimum necessary, dress warmly and go slowly.

Stop comfort eating

  • Another factor in winter-related deaths may be that blood becomes more concentrated in cold weather, so cholesterol levels rise more in autumn and winter than spring and summer.
  • Avoid eating larger quantities than usual in winter, especially more carbohydrate-rich "comfort foods."
  • These dietary changes could contribute to raising cholesterol levels as well as promoting weight gain and metabolic changes.
  • Instead, choose homemade soups, baked apples, clementines and other healthy alternatives.
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