The winter months require us to operate a little differently. With cold temperatures, extra layers are needed to keep warm. When snow and ice hit, you might spend a little more time in the morning brushing off your car or shoveling the sidewalk. And with holidays and celebrations often associated with gift giving and lots of food, we are all putting in extra effort before the end of the year.
But that’s not the only thing that has to work harder. During these colder months, your heart has to put in more work too.
“It takes more effort for your heart to keep the body warm in the winter,” says Brittany Fuller, M.D., a cardiologist for Henry Ford Health. “As a result, your blood pressure raises and constricts your blood vessels – which can trigger a heart related episode.”
The solution? As we approach the end of the year with plenty more cold days ahead, keep in mind these factors that can impact your heart health.
- Muscle strain. That snow isn’t going to shovel itself, but that doesn’t mean you can put yourself at risk in the process. “One shovelful of heavy, wet snow can weigh approximately 15 pounds,” says Dr. Fuller. “Continuously and repetitively lifting that amount of weight for 30-40 minutes if you aren’t regularly active can be very taxing on your body.”
- Overexertion. Wanting to work out in the winter is one thing, but make sure you adjust your routine to the weather. Trudging through snow requires different muscle groups, meaning you are likely to tire out sooner.
- Stress. Between the holidays and trying to get work projects and personal goals wrapped up before the end of the year, winter often feels like a time of constant stress. If you have an underlying health condition, too much added stress in the winter can increase your risk of a major heart event such as sudden cardiac arrest or a heart attack.
- Overindulging. If you have a heart condition, indulging in rich foods can present some risk. When you eat dishes that are high in sodium or sugar, your body tends to retain fluid. This can exasperate issues such as heart failure.
Getting Your Heart Through The Winter
Instead of trying to take on everything this winter, look for ways to make things easier on you – and your heart. Here are some ideas:
- Work together with friends, family and neighbors to tackle cold-weather tasks like shoveling.
- Try out online fitness classes, add to your at-home gym or switch up your routine to focus on indoor workouts.
- Take time to breathe. Don’t put so much pressure on yourself!
- “Don’t stress about holiday eating,” says Dr. Fuller. “Instead, be smart about it – think moderation and watch your portions sizes.”
The Danger Of Putting Off A Heart Issue
There is no reason to delay care for a heart problem – even when cold weather is a factor. “The longer you delay, the greater the likelihood of damage to your heart with little chance of reversal,” says Dr. Fuller.
Whether you have a heart condition or not, make sure to let your doctor know if you are experiencing a change in how you feel or any new symptoms. Don’t ignore them!
Most importantly, look out for others when the weather gets cold. “Pay attention to what is going on around you – on your street, in your neighborhood,” Dr. Fuller says. “When we look out for each other, we can help prevent heart issues.”
If you happen to see someone fall outside, call 911 first. Medical attention may be needed whether it is related to a heart condition or not. “Consider learning hands-only CPR in case of emergencies," says Dr. Fuller. “Like many serious health conditions, minutes matter when your heart is at stake – that can be the difference between surviving a serious heart episode and not.”
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Dr. Brittany Fuller is an interventional cardiologist who sees patients at Henry Ford Medical Center – Second Avenue. She also works with the Women’s Heart Center to provide support to women with cardiovascular risks and heart conditions.