Cold weather has long been linked to illnesses like the flu and bronchitis that can leave you stuffy and sneezing, but a recent study suggests that it might also be the root of some serious heart problems, too.
According to a recent study, heart-related deaths around the United States increased during the winter months, even in areas that have warm climates year-round. In seven areas studied by researchers, the number of deaths and heart-related deaths was more than 20 percent higher in winter than it was during summer months.
Although the study doesn’t draw a direct link between heart disease or heart attack and colder weather, researchers did suggest that there might be a few reasons behind this spike, including constricted blood vessels and hormonal changes, both of which can impact heart health. They suggest another factor, too: a lack of exercise.
“People are more likely to be inactive during colder months,” says Sean Janzer, MD, cardiologist at Bryn Mawr Hospital, Main Line Health. “Staying active and exercising is one of the best ways to keep your heart healthy, and if you’re ignoring that for three or four months out of the year, it will take its toll.”
Pair a lack of activity with a few extra holiday pounds, and you’re putting yourself at risk for worsened heart health during winter and all year-round. So how can you make sure you’re keeping your heart healthy? Make it a priority, says Dr. Janzer.
Talk to your doctor to see if you have any risk factors for heart disease, like high blood pressure or diabetes, and be aware of the signs of a heart attack. Although heart attack or heart disease can happen to anyone, those with risk factors are more likely to be affected. Continue eating well and exercising three to four days per week. If you are exercising outside, make sure to wear a hat, plenty of layers, and stay dry.
Another activity that puts hearts at risk during the winter months is snow shoveling. Many patients who experience heart attacks or other heart health issues first begin experiencing symptoms while shoveling snow.
“Shoveling snow and similar outdoor activities usually are not enough to trigger a heart issue, but if you have pre-existing conditions or other risk factors, it can be dangerous,” warns Dr. Janzer.
Keep your health in mind before heading out to shovel the sidewalk or driveway, and see if a neighbor or friend can assist if you have pre-existing conditions.
Studies like these that suggest that cooler weather may be a heart health risk are important to note, but don’t let it be the only time you’re concerned.
“Although heart-related problems might spike in winter, it doesn’t mean that’s the only time you should be paying attention to your heart health,” cautions Dr. Janzer.
Protect your heart by making regular appointments with your doctor or a cardiologist, especially if you’ve dealt with a heart condition in the past. To find a doctor near you, visit the Main Line Health website.