Some people winter in sunny California. Others tough out the cold and snow in the Northeast. Whether you’re sweating in Florida or freezing in New York, there’s one constant this season: Your heart risk is higher now than it is in summer months.
Shoveling snow has long been linked to heart attacks. But a new study suggests winter’s dangers affect even those who never see a snowflake. Researchers assessed death certificates and climate data from seven U.S. cities and regions. Regardless of the weather, both total and heart-related deaths increased between 25 and 36 percent in winter, compared with the summer months.
Change in Habits May Help Explain the Link
When it’s cold outside, blood vessels may tend to constrict, raising your blood pressure. In these conditions, sudden exertion can trigger a heart attack. Even walking through a wet snowdrift places extra strain on your heart.
So, why does the risk persist in warmer climates? It may not be freezing in Los Angeles, like it is in Pennsylvania. But healthy habits, such as eating fresh foods and exercising, are still more likely to drop by the wayside as the days get shorter, the study authors note.
Maintain Heart Healthy Habits in the Winter
The results make clear that heart-healthy lifestyle choices are important year-round. Focus on eating nutritious foods, such as fruits and vegetables, and maintaining a regular fitness program.
If you exercise outside in the cold, take steps to reduce risk of hypothermia, or a dangerously low body temperature. Wear layers — which trap warm air in between — along with a hat and gloves.
Also, avoid alcohol before going outdoors in a cold climate. Drinking gives you a false feeling of warmth, then draws blood away from your internal organs. And skip heavy meals immediately before snow-shoveling or other exercise. They increase the load on your heart.
“Abstract 11723: Seasonal Variation in Cardiac Death Rates is Uniform across Different Climates.” B.G. Schwartz and R.A. Kloner. Circulation. Nov. 20, 2012, vol. 126, no. 21 supplement, pp. A11723. circ.ahajournals.org/cgi/content/meeting_abstract/126/21_MeetingAbstracts/A11723.
“Cold Weather and Cardiovascular Disease.” American Heart Association. www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/Cold-Weather-and-Cardiovascular-Disease_UCM_315615_Article.jsp.
“Heart-related deaths increase in winter regardless of climate.” American Heart Association. newsroom.heart.org/pr/aha/heart-related-deaths-increase-239568.aspx.
“Heart safety tips for shoveling snow.” American Heart Association, January 27, 2015. http://blog.heart.org/heart-safety-tips-shoveling-snow/