Some people welcome the winter with open arms while others hope the cold months go by as quickly as possible. Regardless of how you feel about the season, winter’s colder temperatures can present a risk for many. Cold weather can put stress on the heart in a number of ways, and people with pre-existing heart conditions and the elderly are especially vulnerable to winter’s challenges.
Cold Weather Constricts Blood Vessels
Colder temperatures cause the blood vessels and arteries to narrow, which decreases blood flow and reduces oxygen to the heart. The heart must pump harder to circulate blood through its narrowed vessels, which increases blood pressure. High blood pressure can result in heart attacks or strokes.
Outdoor Winter Activities Can Strain the Heart
Colder temperatures make the heart work harder. The heavy exertion that comes from scraping ice, shoveling snow or engaging in winter sports puts the heart under additional strain. People with coronary artery disease need to be especially vigilant about overexertion.
The Threat of Hypothermia
The cold temperatures, wind, rain and snow associated with winter can quickly drive down the body’s temperature. Hypothermia occurs when your body can’t produce enough energy to keep your internal organs sufficiently warm and your body temperature falls below 95 degrees. Hypothermia can be fatal.
Staying Safe and Warm
It’s important to follow proper precautions to protect your health. Whenever you’re out in cold weather, pay attention to any unusual symptoms or sensations you’re experiencing. When engaging in winter sports, avoid overexertion. Remember that your heart is working much harder than if you were doing similar activities in warmer temperatures. To guard against hypothermia, wear a hat and dress in warm layers.