Thankfully I haven’t had the opportunity to shovel snow off my driveway this year. But with each passing day, I know it’s getting closer and closer. Dealing with the snow is something many of us dread…but there are more serious things to worry about when it comes to snow and cold. Health risks even.
Did you know that winter can pose a real health threat to people with high blood pressure or heart disease? No, I don’t want you to be a couch potato and avoid activity, but I do have some key secrets on how you can protect your heart and your health during the winter season.
Have a Heart Condition? You Need to Be Extra Cautious in Winter
Vigorous activities like shoveling snow or even walking through heavy, wet snow can trigger cardiovascular trauma. Knowing your limits and avoiding such risks is important, especially as the temperatures drop.
On Wednesday, Mat Lecompte talked about some of the activities that can help improve the conditioning of your heart this winter (see “Top 3 Winter Heart Health Boosters”), but if you have a history of heart problems, you need to be very cautious with strenuous activity in the winter months.
Winter Heart Protection Tip #1: Monitor Chest Pain
Many people with cardiovascular disease experience chest pain in cold temperatures, known as angina pectoris, so monitoring your chest pain is important. When it hits, take a moment to sit down and rest until it passes. If it’s an unusual symptom for you, seek urgent care or emergency assistance.
Winter Heart Protection Tip #2: Warm Up
If you are interested in engaging in more activity this winter, start slow and acclimatize yourself to light activity before bringing your heart rate up. My father-in-law does a little routine of walking around the block once or twice before he shovels his snow. Gets him warmed up for the heavy work, he says. And I think it’s something everyone should do!
Winter Heart Protection Tip #3: Dress Warmly, Even if You Don’t Feel You Need to
Keeping the temperature in mind is very important. If you’ve got cardiovascular disease or high blood pressure and find yourself warm, it’s very easy to under-dress this winter and increase your risk for hypothermia. This is also true for elderly individuals with low levels of body fat and who might not be able to necessarily feel the cold.
Hypothermia occurs when your body cannot produce enough energy to keep your internal body temperature warm, and it can ultimately kill you. Your vital organs need energy to perform their functions, and when the heat is taken away, they slow right down and produce symptoms like poor coordination, confusion, slowed reactions, shivering, and sleepiness.
So, avoid this particular hidden danger; if you’re heading outdoors this winter, whether to the grocery store or for a long walk, then layer up. This is the best way to keep heat from escaping and to limit the amount of heat lost from wind and moisture.
Winter Heart Protection Tip #4: Have a Plan
Layering up is important, but so is having a plan. When you get out there to shovel snow, for example, don’t push too hard. Schedule yourself enough time to take care of the work or do it in shifts (do half in the morning and half at night). Don’t rush through it. Take breaks when needed and allow yourself adequate rest. If your neighbor has a snow blower, perhaps ask them for some help. If your heart condition is serious enough or you have a large property, you should hire a neighborhood kid to take care of the snow shoveling for you and get your winter activity in milder ways, like going for a walk.
Winter Heart Protection Tip #5: Know When You Can Have a Drink
Me, I used to like to warm up after chucking snow out of my driveway with a nice spiked hot apple cider. It’s a satisfying reward for completing the job. But I found out that avoiding alcohol immediately after (or before) shoveling can also lower my risk of a heart attack. So take this tip seriously. Wait a few minutes, cool off, drink some water, and then have one drink if you like. It’s all about the timing.
Stay Aware of Heart Health Challenges in Winter
Cold temperatures can lead to some serious health challenges—but being aware of them is the best form of prevention. So I hope you take heed of my tips for when the winter weather strikes. Enjoy the unseasonable warmth while it lasts!
Source for Today’s Article:
“Cold Weather and cardiovascular disease,” American Heart Association web site; http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/General/Cold-Weather-and-Cardiovascular-Disease_UCM_315615_Article.jsp#, last accessed December 15, 2015.