Hospitalizations for heart attacks and heart failure tend to be more common and severe during the winter months. There are a few easy steps you can follow to protect your heart in this cold weather.
Some reasons for strain on the heart during the winter months could be:
- Lower temperatures during the winter cause the blood vessels to constrict, which increases blood pressure.
- Emotional stress caused by increased financial burdens and family commitments during the holiday season.
- Shortened daylight hours create a hormonal imbalance that lowers the threshold for heart attack, especially in the morning.
- Overindulgence in foods containing salt and fat, as well as alcohol, cause fluid retention and high blood pressure.
- Increased frequency of respiratory problems such as pneumonia and influenza during the winter months.
- Extreme levels of physical activity like snow shoveling, particularly in people who are not used to high levels of exercise.
As you head out to shovel, follow these preventative tips to stay heart healthy:
- Dress warmly; bundling up helps avoid constriction of your blood vessels and the resulting high blood pressure.
- Take your time and shovel only what needs to be cleared, even if it’s just a path that measures as wide as the shovel.
- Ask for help!
- Shovel in the afternoon to avoid the hormonal imbalance that often happens in the morning.
- Let your body be your guide. If you feel tired or winded, stop and relax. Do not overexert yourself.
It’s common to get muscle fatigue in the arms while shoveling, but be aware of the classic signs of heart trouble. They include pain or pressure in the center of the chest that may or may not be accompanied by pain in the left arm or jaw and profuse sweating.
If anyone experiences any of these symptoms, they should stop shoveling immediately and seek medical attention. Not everyone has the ‘classic’ symptoms of a heart attack. If you feel unwell during shoveling and have concerns about your symptoms, call your primary care physician or 911 immediately.