Authored by Dr. Brajmohan Singh, Consultant – Cardiothoracic and Vascular Surgery, HCG Hospitals Bhavnagar.
Our heart beats around 2.5 billion times in the average lifetime, circulating millions of gallons of blood throughout the body. This blood carries oxygen, fuel, hormones and several other essential compounds that our body requires to stay functional. The heart’s workload is never ending, and it keeps on beating and keeps us alive. When the heart stops, almost all essential functions of the body fail. Poor diet, lack of exercise, smoking, infection, genetic issues are some common risk factors that cause various heart-related disorders. While winters are favourite for a large number of people in our country owing to the comfortable cold weather, it is also the time when one must be cautious about keeping one’s heart healthy. This is because winters are found to increase the risk of heart attacks and strokes. Here’s why and what to do to amp up heart health during winter.
How winters affect the heart health
The cold weather during winter contracts the blood vessels, thereby narrowing them. This results in increased blood pressure which enhances the risk of heart attack and stroke. Also, angina – chest pain due to coronary heart disease may worsen in the winter as the coronary vessels get narrowed. Also, the cold weather puts extra pressure on the heart as it has to work harder to maintain a healthy body temperature against the cold wind which makes the body lose more heat at a faster rate. In extreme cases, hypothermia can occur when the body temperature drops below 95 degrees and that could damage the heart muscle.
Here are various ways by which cold weather can affect one’s heart and what can be done to protect heart health.
Cold weather: Chilly winds and cold can cause arteries to narrow, restricting blood flow to the heart. Doing strenuous activities that put pressure on the heart at this time can make one more prone to a heart attack or stroke. Also, those with persistent heart disease must be more conscious during winter as it could aggravate and cause chest pain or trigger an attack.
Watch out for the signs of heart attack
The most common sign of a heart attack is acute chest pain. While men may experience nausea and dizziness, heart attacks among women are mostly asymptomatic which could lead to disregarding the signs.
Seasonal flu: Winters are known for influenza or flu including inflammation, dehydration and fever. These could enhance the stress on heart. It has been observed that the risk of getting a heart attack after getting the flu increases by 6 times.
Sedentary lifestyle: When winter, one prefers to stay indoors and become inactive. A sedentary lifestyle isn’t good for heart health and can anyway increase the risk of heart-related issues.
Overindulgence: It is hard to resist alcohol and comfort foods during winter but excessive consumption of alcohol and oily foods can increase the risk of heart attacks. One can, however, choose healthy food to warm up during winter like low-sodium, cream-free soups, oatmeal, roasted carrots and other winter veggies.
Tips to keep the heart healthy during winter
● Strenuous exercise must be avoided as that could put excessive pressure on heart health
● One must dress in layers so that it is easier to remove clothing as overheating may also trigger a heart attack or stroke.
● One must avoid excessive alcohol as it can make one feel warmer than the body temperature and can be specifically dangerous when one steps out in the cold.
● Washing hands frequently ensure keeping flu and other respiratory infections at bay. Respiratory infections can also increase the risk of a heart attack.
● One must get clinical help at once if one experiences any signs of heart-related disorders.