When we think about winter health issues, we tend to immediately think of cold and flu season. But these seasonal bugs aren’t the only health issue to watch out for! In addition to putting our immune systems to the test, the winter months can potentially put extra strain on our hearts. This is particularly true for individuals already living with heart issues.
And many people do live with heart issues - in fact, heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. Heart disease is connected to numerous heart issues, including plaque build-up in a patient’s arteries, stroke, heart valve issues, and heart attacks. Unfortunately, during this time of year, these individuals are particularly at risk of finding themselves in a hospital for heart-related problems.
What does the winter have to do with heart disease?
The winter months tend to put additional strain and stress on the human body, particularly the heart. Blood vessels naturally constrict in the cold, potentially raising our blood pressure and even contributing to a higher risk of clotting. In addition to this, many activities we knowingly - or unknowingly - participate in during the winter make our bodies work harder than they do during the rest of the year. Examples of these types of activities include maintaining a steady temperature in the cold weather, working harder to walk through snowdrifts, and keeping our balance on icy surfaces.
While most healthy bodies can adapt to any additional workload the winter months may put on them, these activities can extra strain on an unhealthy heart. As a result, researchers have repeatedly seen a spike in heart attacks during the holiday season - in fact, that the issue is sometimes described as a “Merry Christmas coronary” or “Happy Hanukkah heart attack”.
What can I do to stay “heart healthy” this season?
The good news is that there are things we can do to protect our hearts and to prepare for any potential problems during the winter months. It’s particularly important to live as healthy a lifestyle as possible during this time of year. This includes:
- Keeping your stress levels to a minimum. This means both emotional and physical stress! Many heart attack cases in the winter begin when people are shoveling snow, since our bodies are not conditioned to carry out this kind of activity year-round. And stress due to frustration, anger or sadness can also contribute to our heart disease risk if not managed properly.
- Avoiding overindulgence. The holidays are a great time to enjoy high amounts of fatty, salty foods - exactly the kinds of foods our hearts don’t need. Rather than overeating throughout the winter, we recommend enjoying a splurge in moderation, and working to stick to a normal healthy diet as much as possible.
- Exercising regularly.Exercise is one of the best ways to prevent heart disease. It’s also something we tend to skip during the busy holidays or winter months. Scheduling time to exercise and ensuring that you don’t miss it is very important (especially with all of the holiday diet splurges we tend to enjoy!).
- Limiting the number of alcoholic drinks you enjoy. Alcohol has been tied to a risk of heart disease. In moderation, alcoholic beverages do not pose very much of a risk. In the winter, however, we run the risk of overindulging - and combined with the cold weather, a bad holiday diet or a lack of exercise, this can push some people’s hearts over the edge.
Unfortunately, prevention efforts are not always 100% effective, particularly during the rough winter months. Because of this, healthy individuals and people with diagnosed heart problems alike should know the signs and symptoms of a heart attack, as well as signs and symptoms of stroke. Additionally, do not be afraid to call 911 if you experience any of these symptoms. Remember, fast treatment is the key to recovery and survival after a heart attack or stroke – and when it comes to heart issues, it’s better to be safe than sorry!
To read more about staying heart healthy, consider reading our past blog posts - “4 Ways To Live a Heart Healthy Lifestyle”, “Show Your Heart Some Love: Preventing Cardiovascular Disease”, and “6 Heart Healthy Tips For This Summer”.