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The winter months bring cold weather that forces us to bundle up with a hat and gloves and take extra care walking around snow and ice. But the cold weather can also mean an increased risk of some heart issues.
“Cold winter air causes your blood vessels to constrict,” said Tapati Stalam, M.D., cardiologist and member provider of Cooper and Inspira Cardiac Care. “As a result, the heart has to pump harder to deliver blood throughout your body. That’s when you can see increases in your blood pressure and heart beat.”
Your heart also has to work harder to keep your body temperature up. These factors—and even added stress during the holidays—lead to an increase in the number of heart attacks and strokes during winter months. This is a concern for everyone, but especially those with heart conditions.
“It’s particularly important for people with coronary artery disease to understand how the cold weather affects them, know how to protect their heart and pay attention to how they’re feeling,” said Dr. Stalam.
Here are tips for protecting your heart in cold weather.
Your heart rate increases with cold air; exerting yourself by shoveling your driveway or walkway can increase your heart rate further and put you in danger of a heart attack or stroke. Those with coronary artery disease may also experience chest pain while outside in the cold.
“Now is the time to take your neighbor up on their offer to help clear snow and ice,” said Dr. Stalam. Limiting snow shoveling could save your heart and also prevent back injuries, which are more common if you’re not used to heavy lifting or exertion.
The holidays are often a time to indulge, but drinking more alcohol than normal, using nicotine and drinking caffeine can all increase your risk of heart issues.
“Limit the alcohol and caffeine you drink, and avoid nicotine altogether,” said Dr. Stalam. “All three further constrict your blood vessels, impacting your heart’s ability to pump blood.”
“If you do need to be outside for a long stretch of time, dress appropriately to keep heat in and take frequent breaks by going inside to warm up,” said Dr. Stalam.
Finally, know the signs of a heart attack. If you or a loved one experience these symptoms, call 9-1-1:
“Maintaining a healthy lifestyle during winter months can also help to protect your heart,” said Dr. Stalam. “Eat a healthy diet full of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean protein and exercise if your doctor has signed off on it.”
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