05 Dec Don’t let a cold heart kill you: 4 ways to protect your aging heart in winter
You or your loved one goes out first thing on a cold morning to shovel snow. Next thing you know, you or your dearest lies collapsed on the ground, felled by a heart attack or stroke.
Now let’s back up and see why cold weather is connected to a rise in heart attacks and strokes, and what can be done to lessen the likelihood of losing a loved one, or you yourself dying. Those most at risk include people who lead sedentary lives, elderly people, winter sports enthusiasts, and those with a history of heart disease or stroke. Check with your doctor if you are at risk before taking on an outdoor activity in cold weather.
Cold weather causes arteries to tighten, which reduces blood flow and reduces oxygen supply to the heart, which can lead to a heart attack. The normal, early-morning rise in blood pressure also increases the risk of having a heart attack or stroke. Increased platelet aggregation, and greater viscosity of the blood when people are outdoors in cold weather, increases the likelihood of thrombosis clot formation.
The sudden exertion of shoveling snow first thing in the morning creates unnecessary risk. So, too, do walking through snow drifts or heavy, wet snow; downhill and cross-country skiing; and snowboarding, for example. A variety of measures may help to reduce the risk.
- delay exertion in cold weather until later in the morning (at least 30 minutes after you wake up)
- warm up slowly, for example by walking around or marching in place and swinging your arms
Watch what you eat and drink
- drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration
- don’t eat a heavy meal for one hour before and one hour after exertion
- don’t drink coffee and don’t smoke before and after
- don’t drink alcoholic beverages (blood vessels in the skin expand, which draws heat from internal organs, which in turn reduces the core temperature, leading possibly to heart attack or stroke)
Wear heat-conserving clothing
- wear multiple layers
- cover your mouth with a scarf and try to breathe through your nose to pre-warm air before it enters the lungs, to avoid cooling the inside of the body
- keep head, hands, and feet warm and dry, to slow heat loss from the body
Pace yourself for all outdoor activities
- move at a slow and steady pace (do not attempt to keep up with young people!)
- if clearing snow, use a small shovel
- take breaks frequently, such as every 15 minutes
- take your pulse for 30 seconds before you go outside, and note the number; when you take a break, check your pulse; don’t start up again until your pulse returns to the initial rate before you began.
It’s also a good idea to learn the signs of heart attack and stroke. Report any unexplained or abnormal symptoms by calling 911 or your local emergency number immediately. Don’t wait to see if the symptoms go away. It’s also a good idea to check health precautions before starting up your winter activities.
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