November 18, 2019

How Cold Temperatures Affect Your Heart

General, Healthy Living

The drastic drop in temperature every year can affect your heart health in ways you might not expect. Cold weather is one of the most common health risks you encounter in the winter, but people often think only about the dangers of it in extreme forms, such as hypothermia and frostbite.

Cold weather causes your blood vessels to contract, raising blood pressure and increasing the risk of heart attack and stroke. When you’re in cold temperatures, your heart has to work overtime to maintain a healthy body temperature. This winter, take extra precaution by following these tips.

Dress for the weather. When your body is suddenly exposed to freezing temperatures, your blood vessels begin to constrict. Wearing layers, hats, scarves and gloves will help keep the heat close to your body. Choosing a few thin layers can actually keep you warmer than one thick layer!

What should you wear? Don’t layer with cotton. Once it becomes wet with sweat, the trapped moisture can make you feel colder. Instead, choose something that wicks away moisture, like a high-performance fabric, for your first layer. Next, add a layer of fleece and top with a thin waterproof layer.

Avoid excess alcohol. Alcohol can make you feel warmer than you really are and, therefore, can be very dangerous when you’re out in the cold. When you drink alcohol, your blood vessels widen under the skin and fill with warm blood. This often makes you feel flushed or hot, but in the cold it has the opposite effect and can lead to hypothermia.

Don’t shovel for long periods of time. In the winter, people often find themselves doing more strenuous activities, such as shoveling or drudging through heavy snow. These activities can cause a sudden increase in blood pressure and heart rate, and the cold air can cause constriction of blood vessels and decrease oxygen to the heart.

Take breaks. Give yourself a break (or two or three) when shoveling so you don’t overdo it. If you begin to shiver, go inside for a bit to warm up and sit down for a minute.

Drink plenty of water. Dehydration can happen in any season and is actually accelerated in the cold weather. In the winter, the air is dryer, causing your lungs to work harder to humidify that air and warm it up. The harder you work, the more water you need to drink. 

Stay safe this winter! Listen to your body and take it easy. If you have heart disease, cold temperatures can be potentially life-threatening. If you’re in a cold environment, make sure you’re taking the proper precautions to reduce your risk.

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