Savvy Senior: Guard against wintertime heart attacks

Jim Miller gives advice on keeping your heart healthy during the cold winter months when heart attack rates double.
BY Jim Miller For The Oklahoman Published: December 9, 2013
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DEAR SAVVY SENIOR: When I had a mild heart attack about six months ago my doctor told me I needed to be extra careful during the winter when recurring heart attacks are more common. Is this true? How can the seasons affect your heart?

— Leery Senior

DEAR LEERY: Everyone knows winter is cold and flu season, but most people don't know that it's also the prime season for heart attacks too, especially if you already have heart disease or have suffered a previous heart attack. Here's what you should know, along with some tips to help you protect yourself.

Heart attack season

In the U.S., the risk of having a heart attack during the winter months is twice as high as it is during the summertime. Why? There are a number of factors, and they're not all linked to cold weather. Even people who live in warm climates have an increased risk. Here are the areas you need to pay extra attention to this winter.

Cold temperatures: When a person gets cold, the body responds by constricting the blood vessels to help the body maintain heat. This causes blood pressure to go up and makes the heart work harder. Cold temperatures can also increase levels of certain proteins that can thicken the blood and increase the risk for blood clots. So stay warm this winter, and when you do have to go outside, make sure you bundle up in layers with gloves and a hat, and place a scarf over your mouth and nose to warm up the air before you breathe it in.

Snow shoveling: Studies have shown that heart attack rates jump dramatically in the first few days after a major snowstorm, usually a result of snow shoveling. Shoveling snow is a very strenuous activity that raises blood pressure and stresses the heart. Combine those factors with the cold temperatures and the risks for heart attack surges. If your sidewalk or driveway needs shoveling this winter, hire a kid from the neighborhood to do it for you, or use a snowblower. Or, if you must shovel, push rather than lift the snow as much as possible, stay warm, and take frequent breaks.

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