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Cold Weather and Heart Attacks: 3 Things to Know

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As winter knocks on our doors and the temperatures take a nosedive, our focus often shifts to safeguarding our homes, plants and furry friends. However, there's a crucial aspect that many tend to overlook – the impact of colder weather on our hearts. This season, put your health and the health of your loved ones first.

Studies have uncovered a noteworthy rise in heart attacks during the colder months. A nationwide study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found a higher incidence of myocardial infarction, or heart attacks, in Sweden on days with low air temperature, low air pressure, high winds and shorter sunshine duration. It's time to be proactive about your heart health during the winter chill!

What happens to your heart in cold weather?

When temperatures plummet, the cold weather can cause your arteries to constrict. In normal conditions, when you're physically active, your arteries gracefully open up, allowing blood to flow freely throughout your body. Yet, in colder weather, your blood flow takes a hit as vessels contract. This means your heart has to work extra hard, leading to increased blood pressure and pulse. To add to the mix, colder temperatures make platelets more likely to clump together, forming clots. Couple this with the elevated heart rates from activities like skiing or shoveling snow, and you've got a potential recipe for trouble – especially for those with a history of coronary or cardiovascular issues.

What can you do to protect your heart?

Strenuous activities, from your New Year’s workout resolutions to family ski trips and even exerting yourself at a chilly Mardi Gras parade, can pose a risk, and it's not just for individuals with a cardiac history. Even those without prior heart issues can be affected. Some experts recommend that individuals with a significant cardiac history steer clear of outdoor cold-weather activities altogether. Here are a few strategies to keep your heart strong and resilient in the winter months:

  1. Bundle up with layers: Don't just battle the cold; conquer it! Dress in layers to create a cozy insulation barrier that traps precious warmth.
  2. Top it off with a hat: Your head matters! Up to 30% of your body heat escapes through your head, so keep it snug with a hat or head scarf.
  3. Warm up those extremities: Ensure your hands and feet are warm – they tend to lose heat rapidly. Exposed body parts can lead to constricted blood flow and an increased risk of frostbite.
  4. Skip the outdoor sips: Before venturing outdoors or while you're outside, resist the urge to indulge in alcoholic beverages. While they may provide a fleeting warmth, they draw heat away from your vital organs, resulting in an overall loss of body heat.
  5. Stay dry and cozy: Dampness accelerates heat loss, so keep yourself dry to maintain warmth in chilly conditions.
  6. Know your risks: Understand your family's health history and stay up to date with health screenings. Knowledge is power, and it's your shield against potential heart issues.

Winter is a wonderful season, and it’s important to revel in the unique activities this season offers, while keeping these expert tips in mind. For those of us in the South, relish this break from the usual scorching temperatures! Your heart will thank you for these mindful practices the next time the mercury takes a dip. Stay warm, stay informed and let's make this winter a celebration of health and vitality!

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