Brrr—is it frigid outside? Then your heart may need extra TLC. That's because wintry weather, especially temperatures near or below freezing, makes your heart work harder to keep your body warm.
That extra stress may help explain why cold weather is linked to raised heart risks. It's also why cold weather plus strenuous exercise can be the perfect storm for heart attacks.
Be heart smart
To protect your heart, get a green light from your doctor before you exert yourself in cold conditions if you:
- Have heart disease or another medical problem.
- Don't exercise much.
- Are middle-aged or older.
A doctor's OK is especially important before you pick up a show shovel.
Assuming you get a thumbs-up for shoveling, these four precautions are a must:
1. Take it slow and stretch before you begin moving snow.
2. Shovel only fresh, powdery snow—it's lighter.
3. Push snow rather than lift it.
4. Never shovel to the point of exhaustion.
Roll up your sleeve
Winter is usually the peak flu season. With rare exceptions, everyone 6 months and older needs a yearly flu vaccine to protect themselves. That protection is crucial if you have heart disease, since the flu can make it worse.
The time to get vaccinated is before the flu season starts—ideally by the end of October. But getting vaccinated later, even into January, can still be beneficial. The flu can still spread, even in May.
Heart disease and stroke patients should also get vaccinated against pneumonia unless they've had a bad reaction or allergy to the vaccine.
Be mindful of medicine
If you do come down with the flu or a cold this winter, check with your doctor before taking over-the-counter medicines. Some may raise your blood pressure and be risky if you have heart disease or heart failure.
Sources: American Heart Association; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; National Safety Council