Don’t Leave Your Heart Out In the Cold

Snowmageddon. Named Winter Storms. Groundhog Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow.

These are common terms we hear throughout the winter months. Record snowfall totals and steadily declining temperatures have placed this winter as one of the worst historically. Even the Gulf South states have seen their fair share of hard freezes, ice and snow flurries.

You may try to keep yourself warm to prevent cold or flu symptoms, but did you know that cold weather can affect your heart, especially if you have cardiovascular disease? 

To keep any storms raging outside your home instead of inside your heart, it’s important to be aware of the health risks that cold weather can bring and what you can do to keep your heart healthy.

Take precautions when headed outdoors.

Avoid sudden exertion, like lifting a heavy shovel full of snow. Even walking through heavy, wet snow or snow drifts can strain a person's heart.

Love to participate in fun outdoor activities such as ice skating, skiing or hiking? Most outdoor enthusiasts who don't take certain precautions can suffer from accidental hypothermia, an occurrence when the body temperature loses heat faster than it can produce it at a rapid pace. If you’ve been outdoors for awhile, watch out for sudden lack of coordination, mental confusion, slowed reactions, shivering and sleepiness – all symptoms of hypothermia.

Are you at risk?

Harsh winter weather may increase a person's risk of heart attack due to overexertion which can lead to fatal heart failure. Children, the elderly and those with heart disease are at special risk. Elderly people are relatively insensitive to moderately cold conditions and can suffer from hypothermia without knowing they're in danger. People with coronary heart disease often suffer from chest pain or discomfort when they're in cold weather.

Keep warm.

High winds, snow, rain and dampness are dangerous concerns. All these factors steal heat by removing the layer of heated air from around your body at a fast level.

Learning how to dress properly can combat these issues.

  • Dress in layers to trap air and form protective insulation.
  • Wear a hat or head scarf to lock in heat and protect your ears from frostbite.  
  • Keep your hands and feet warm with thick socks (note: wool socks are more insulating than cotton or polyester ones) as they tend to lose heat rapidly. Exposed hands, ears or any other body part will also result in constricted blood flow.

Bottoms up? Maybe not.

While it may seem like a great idea to warm up with a delicious cocktail before heading outdoors, you can actually cause your body more harm. Alcohol gives an initial feeling of warmth because blood vessels in the skin expand, giving you a balmy glow, red cheeks and a false sense of reality. The reaction causes heat to be drawn away from the body's vital organs, putting you at high risk for hypothermia.

Before you head outdoors this winter, think twice about what you can do to keep your heart safe and healthy.