As the winter season ushers in chilly temperatures, it’s essential to pay close attention to your heart health. A drop in the temperature, rather than how cold it is, is what affects our cardiovascular systems. This drop can pose unique challenges, making it crucial to take steps to maintain a healthy heart during the colder months. Let’s explore some strategies to keep your heart in top shape as we look forward to warmer days.
Dress for the weather
Cold weather can cause your blood vessels to narrow in order to preserve body heat, leading to increased blood pressure and heart rate—this is a normal response to cold; however, it puts added strain on your heart and can be a cause for concern for those with an existing heart condition. Recently, researchers have shown that the effects of a cold spell can still be seen on a person’s health two or more weeks later. Dressing warmly with layers will help your body maintain a stable temperature by trapping air between each layer for insulation. Layers will also help you keep from overheating as you can easily remove items of clothing as you become warmer. Protecting your extremities is of utmost importance as we tend to lose heat through our head, hands, and feet. Wearing a hat, head scarf, and gloves can protect against cold and even frostbite and will help you retain heat.
During the colder months, your body may experience changes in energy levels, metabolism, and even appetite. One of the primary challenges in the winter is the temptation to stay inside. However, physical activity is crucial for heart health, restorative sleep, and a positive mood. Regular exercise also helps maintain a healthy weight, lower blood pressure, and reduce the risk of heart disease. Embrace outdoor activities like brisk walks or winter sports. If outdoor activities are not possible, consider indoor alternatives like home workouts, dancing, or even house chores like sweeping and vacuuming.
Maintain a heart-healthy diet
Winter often entices us with hearty, higher calorie comfort foods. While it’s not wrong to indulge every now and then, strive for a balanced and heart-healthy diet by incorporating plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins into your meals. Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, like salmon and walnuts, may help improve cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Eat mindfully and incorporate colorful vegetables and lean proteins into your winter soup and stew recipes. Additionally, limit your intake of salt, processed foods, and sugary beverages to keep your heart healthy.
Cold temperatures can make it harder to stay hydrated (we typically feel less thirsty in the cold weather). Dehydration requires your heart to work harder to pump blood. In addition, not being properly hydrated makes your blood thicker and constricts blood vessels, which can increase blood pressure and potentially lead to increased strain. Aim to drink at least eight glasses of water a day and consider warm beverages such as hot herbal teas, soups, and broths for hydration and warmth. And avoid caffeine as it can contribute to dehydration.
While cold weather brings its unique set of challenges, taking proactive measures can help you maintain a strong and healthy heart. By dressing warmly, staying active, eating a heart-healthy diet, and staying hydrated, you can ensure that your heart stays in optimal shape even during the coldest months. Remember that your heart deserves year-round care, so make these habits part of your daily routine to enjoy a happy and heart-healthy winter season.
If you or anyone you know experiences the following symptoms of stroke, heart attack, or hypothermia, seek emergency care:
- F – is the face drooping on one side?
- A – can the person raise both arms and hold that position?
- S – is their speech slurred?
- T – time to call 911 if you spot any one of these signs