It is essential to understand the effects of cold weather on your heart health. Cold weather makes the heart work harder to keep the body warm and therefore requires more oxygen. Cold temperature can consequently affect the blood circulation, restrict blood flow, cause arteries to tighten, which can increase the heart attack risk. Research also suggests that cold can increase the risk of developing blood clots which can lead to heart attack and stroke.
It is important to stay warm to protect your heart health during winter. The following tips can help ensure this:
- Stay indoors as much as possible
- Wear warm clothing
- Avoid cold meals and beverages and prefer having hot meals. Stick to healthy food habits, especially during winters which are also a holiday season when one tends to eat more unhealthy food, drink and smoke and in the process gain weight.
Flu Makes The Heart Beat Faster
Flu causes symptoms such as fever, which makes the heart to beat faster, which raises its demand for oxygen-rich blood. Flu also can cause dehydration which can result in low blood pressure. These changes can increase the risk of a heart attack. These changes can trigger a heart attack in people who are already at risk for heart disease. Recent reports show that Influenza A (H1N1) infection can sometimes cause acute myocarditis and cardiomyopathy. In this condition, the heart pumping function is severely compromised, which leads to heart failure. Small steps can go a long way in protecting yourself from the flu during the winter season.
Pre-Existing Heart Conditions Can Be A Problem
You need to be careful during winter if you have a pre-existing heart condition or more at risk for heart disease (i.e. have heart disease risk factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes). The elderly population (above the age of 65) is especially vulnerable during winter.
Blood Pressure Is Higher In Winters
Blood pressure generally is higher in the winter. This variation is seen because low temperatures cause your blood vessels to narrow. There are several factors responsible for high blood pressure. There is increased release of catecholamines into the bloodstream in response to cold weather, which constricts the blood vessels and raises blood pressure.
The vitamin D level in winter season remains low. Low vitamin D level in blood is known to elevate rennin Angiotensin mechanism leading to increase in blood pressure. Relative physical inactivity also is a factor responsible for high blood pressure in winter. These weather-related variations in blood pressure are more common in people age 65 and older.
Healthy Diet & Regular Exercises
A healthy diet and regular exercise will prevent high blood pressure in winter. In persons who are already having high BP, they should regularly take anti-hypertensive drugs to keep their BP in check. Take Flu shots every year before winter to prevent influenza. If you get flu-like symptoms, then take ample rest and lots of fluids. If the condition doesn’t improve, then do not delay medical treatment. Get proper treatment for other comorbid conditions like diabetes and dyslipidemia.
Also, wear warm clothes and keep the body warm. One should exercise 30 to 45 mins every day. Exercise maintains vasodilatation and thus reduces blood pressure. Eat healthy, especially DASH type diet pattern. DASH (Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension) consists of food rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grain, lean meat, poultry and fish. DASH diet is low in fat and sodium.
By Dr Santosh Kumar Dora, Senior Cardiologist, Asian Heart Institute, Mumbai
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