Everyone knows that winter is cold and flu season, but did you know that it is also the riskiest time of the year for your heart? A recent study found that the risk of heart-attack was twice as great in January than in July, with 53% more heart-attacks occurring in winter than in summer.
And it’s not just from cold temperatures and shoveling snow. Studies show that heart attack risk in winter is greater even in warmer climates such as Hawaii and Los Angeles. There are several reasons for this increased risk and what you can do to prevent it:
Falling temperatures – when you’re cold, the body reacts by constricting blood vessels. For those with clogged arteries, this could cause a blockage and trigger a heart-attack. To keep your blood flowing freely, bundle up – always wear a warm jacket, gloves, scarves and hats.
Shoveling snow – lifting heavy shovels of snow combined with a lack of upper body exercise throughout the year can cause blood pressure to rise. Combined with the cold temperature, heart-attack risk rises. If you must shovel, stay warm and take frequent breaks. Experts recommend that men over age 50 and women over age 60 skip shoveling altogether, and instead buy a snowblower or enlist the help of a teenager.
Holidays meals & alcohol – For many people the Holidays are a time of excess, when they indulge in richer, higher fat foods and are more likely to binge on alcohol. However, for someone at risk for heart disease, even one high-fat meal could be dangerous, as it can interfere with the lining of the arteries and the chemicals related to blood flow. And increased consumption of alcohol can damage the heart and cause abnormal heartrates. Reduce these risks by sticking to a healthy eating and drinking regime that you follow throughout the year.
Increased smoke exposure – Holiday time is often party time, when you’re more likely to be exposed to second hand smoke, which has a similar affect as high-fat foods and can interfere with blood flow. If you’re a smoker you may be tempted to smoke more, further increasing your risk of developing a heart-attack. Avoid smoke-filled rooms and if you smoke, quit.
Cold & flu – Respiratory infections can increase blood clotting and raise heart-attack risk. Recent research has shown that those who have received a flu shot have a lower risk. Start the season right by getting a flu shot.
The Wall Street Journal (Eastern edition), December 11, 2006, pg. R.8