If cold weather and snow weren’t enough to dread the winter, we have some bad news in store for you. Research has shown that your heart is at a higher risk for heart attack during the colder months. In particular, the act of shoveling snow puts your heart in danger, so count your blessings if you live in a place where snow doesn’t fall.
A 2010 study found that cold weather can increase the risk of heart attacks, even among healthy individuals. More specifically, every 1.8 degree drop in temperature on a single day was associated with an additional 200 heart attacks.
Experts recommend being extra mindful of your heart health this winter, regardless of whether you have any risk factors for a heart attack. Dr. Donny Hardy of Kentucky One Health Primary Care Associates explained, “The winter months can put even a healthy person at risk for a heart attack or other heart health problems. To help protect yourself and those around you, be aware of the warning signs of heart attack, which include pressure, tightness or pain in the chest or arms, nausea, shortness of breath, cold sweat, lightheadedness, and fatigue.”
Cold temperatures increase heart rate and blood pressure, making blood vessels narrow. This makes the pathway for blood to travel smaller, further increasing the pressure to force the blood through. High blood pressure is a known risk factor for heart attack and stroke.
Additionally, colder temperatures can trigger hormonal changes, which can promote blood clotting. Cortisone levels also increase in the cold, making platelets sticky and thus leading to blockages in the arteries.
Wintertime physical activities, such as shoveling or exercising outdoors, were also found to increase the risk of heart-related events. As doctors explain, the heart must work harder in the winter in order to keep the body warm. Worse yet, when the risk factors are coupled with extra stress from the holidays, the risk climbs up even more.
Dr. Hardy concluded, “Many people let their health take a backseat during the winter, but it’s actually even more important to ensure your heart is healthy during the colder months. Try to maintain a healthy lifestyle…and talk to your primary care provider about ways to protect your heart during the colder months.”