Winter Risks & Resolutions for Heart Health

Regardless of whether the snow flies or the mercury drops, more than common sense is needed for maintaining proper heart health in the winter.

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), the weather is not the determining factor in heart-related issues, as once assumed by many in the field. In fact, an AHA study revealed that in the peak winter months there was a 10% increase from the summer low in “circulatory” deaths which include heart failure, heart attack, cardiovascular disease and stroke.

Dr. Aashish Dua, a Premier Medical Associates cardiologist, explained, “There are several factors unique to winter that lead to the increase in cardiac-related traumas and deaths this time of year.”

If you or someone in your family has heart-related challenges, it is important to note the risk factors that are prevalent in winter including:

  • Shorter days – Decreased daylight and sunshine alter hormonal balance, such as cortisol, and can increase risk for those with cardiac issues.
  • Hypothermia exposure – Winter offers up a lethal mix of sleet, rain, snow and wind giving those with heart disease an increased risk for hypothermia. More oxygen is needed to maintain body temperature, which raises blood pressure and strains the heart.
  • Year-end stress – Holiday season and the year’s end bring increased family and financial obligations that may exploit normal anxiety or depression conditions.
  • Increased smoking and caffeine intake – Studies have shown people drink more caffeine and smoke more frequently to deal with shorter days and less desirable weather. Simply put – all are bad for the heart.
  • Decreases and spontaneous physical activity – Daily routines get disrupted in winter due to less daylight and many people neglect normal exercise routines.
  • Weight gain – The desire for comfort foods, exposure to holiday treats and decreased exercise all impact weight maintenance critical to proper heart health.

As the winter season bears on, Dr. Dua has offered his Top 5 tips to help people protect their heart health:

  1. Eat a balanced diet that has sufficient protein and vegetables to keep up Vitamin D levels and decrease the desire for sugar and carbs.
  2. Avoid weight gain because the winter season makes it harder to lose despite traditional New Year’s resolutions.
  3. Avoiding sudden, unusual physical exertion such as shoveling snow. Strenuous activity, particularly in early morning, can spike blood pressure and strain the heart.
  4. Stay hydrated. Inadequate fluid intake can cause fluctuations in blood pressure and the oxygen needs of the body, forcing the heart to work harder.
  5. Don’t overlook flu and pneumonia vaccinations. For people with cardiac risk and those over 65, these vaccines are often undervalued. Either condition can be devastating to those with heart conditions.