Cold weather can be hard on your heart. It’s not just the lower temperatures that’s the issue, it’s also the piles of snow that come with it. Our bodies have ways to adapt to all kinds of weather, but you may be surprised to hear what cold weather can do to your heart.
One of the reasons this is so concerning is because of how prevalent heart disease still is in the United States. According to the American Heart Association, heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S., killing more than 800,000 people each year. That’s about one out of every three deaths. It also is a major cause of disability.
So if you or someone you know are already dealing with some of the underlying effects of heart disease, adding the strain of cold weather could create a dangerous situation. But if you understand the risk and know how to decrease it, you’ll be better off. So, here’s what cold weather can do to your heart.
Cold Weather Increases Blood Pressure
Research documenting wintertime increases in blood pressure goes way back. In fact, one of the most recent studies found death rates can increase as much as 36 percent between the months of January through March. That’s because cold weather causes your blood vessels to constrict, raising your blood pressure and increasing your risk of death from heart disease and stroke.
French researchers discovered the cold-weather increase in systolic blood pressure (the top number) is especially pronounced if you’re 80 or older. A 2017 study got similar results. The thought is cold may trigger a fight-or-flight response: blood pressure goes up because the heart pumps faster and blood vessels tense up.
A study in the British Medical Journal found even a 1-degree Celsius drop in temperature was associated with a cumulative 2% increased risk for heart attack, according to a 2010 study published in the British Medical Journal.
Cold Weather and Weight Gain
Because it’s cold outside, you may be staying inside, which means you’re probably not as active.
A recent Columbia University study points out the dangers of a sedentary lifestyle. Cold weather only increases the risk.
Cold Weather and Strenuous Activity
Cold weather and snow go hand in hand, just like snow and shoveling. When your driveway is covered and you have to get out, you probably get out there and clear it—heart disease or not.
Snow shoveling is one example where people who have heart disease or risk factors for heart disease exert themselves more than they may otherwise.
Cut Cold Weather Risk
Avoiding overexertion is just one of the ways you can decrease the risk cold weather may present. To have a heart-healthy winter, you can try things like:
- Dressing warmly
- Taking frequent rest breaks when performing physical activities outside
- Not drinking alcohol in the cold. Alcohol may make you feel misleadingly warm, causing you to underestimate your body’s actual temperature and making you more susceptible to hypothermia.
It’s easy to see the effect cold weather can have on your heart. That’s why it’s important to take care of it, not just in the winter but all year long. If you’d like more tips on heart health and the problems that can develop if you’re not careful, download our free heart disease guide. (need link)