How to Protect Your Heart from the Cold – and How the Cold Affects it!
Not many would think that cold weather can actually affect our hearts, but it can! When the temperature drops, your body has to adapt to it. Our bodies go through some amazing changes to ensure that we stay warm. It is important that when the weather is cold outside, that you take actions to protect your heart! Here is how to protect your heart from the cold, and how the cold affects it!
Because your body is exposed to cold weather it means that your body temperature will start to drop. Many people know of hypothermia (the result of your body losing heat faster than it can create heat to warm you up), but what we don’t realize is how easily it can occur. If our bodies are exposed to low temperatures for too long, and we cannot heat up fast enough (average body temperature is roughly 37˚C), it results in hypothermia (body temperature falling below 30˚C). Hypothermia is especially common for elderly individuals whose bodies are unable to create enough heat to keep them warm. But hypothermia can happen to anyone. If you are outside in freezing temperatures, hypothermia can be seen through the following symptoms:
- Slurred speech
- Short breaths
- Slow pulse
- Confusion and lack of coordination
- Bright red skin
In order to avoid hypothermia, you can do the following:
- Avoid staying outside in freezing temperatures for too long
- Wear warm winter clothing when outside (parka, toque, scarf, mittens, winter boots, snow pants, etc.)
- Remove wet or damp clothing as soon as possible
Although hypothermia slows your heart rate and pulse, the cold can actually affect your heart by speeding it up too! In winter, when we go outside it is often to do something – shovel the sidewalks, walk to the bus, go skating or sledding, etc. For example, we are working hard when we shovel and therefore our heart rate will increase. Not only is your heart working hard while you physically exert yourself, but it is also working hard to keep you warm! When our bodies are exposed to cold weather, our arteries will constrict, resulting in an increase in blood pressure. When you are pushed physically and your heart rate and blood pressure are high, the risk of a heart attack, stroke, or cardiac arrest increases.
A heart attack will occur in cold weather because of the hormone changes that occur as our bodies adapt to the temperature change. These changes can actually increase the risk of getting a blood clot. Blood clots in the body are never good, especially in the cold when our arteries are tight – making it harder for a clot to pass through. When the clot becomes stuck and blood flow to the heart is blocked, the result can be a heart attack.
To protect your heart in the cold, here are a few things you can do:
- Dress warmly when doing outdoor activities
- Do not stay outside for long periods of time – go inside and warm up before heading out once more
- Parents, keep an eye on the clock to make sure your kids aren’t in the cold too long!
- Keep your home warm and be sure to move around after long periods of sitting
- Wear warm layers – even at home!
- Have warm drinks instead of cold, so you can warm your body up
- Have an AED nearby in case an emergency does occur!
Anyone who has heart disease or is considered a person at risk, should avoid being out in the cold too long. These individuals have a higher risk of experiencing a heart-related event and should protect their hearts! Remember, anyone of any age can experience hypothermia or a heart-related event so it is important to stay safe and warm!
Protect your heart this winter and know how the cold affects you!