With several days of cold weather now behind us, and even cooler air ahead, the American Heart Association has released some seasonal advice on staying warm and safe. Cold weather can hurt your heart. Here’s what you need to know to protect it.
How does cold weather affect the heart?
“Many people – especially in the warmer South – aren’t conditioned to the physical stress of outdoor cold-weather activities and don’t know the dangers.”
If you don’t take proper precautions, you may be at risk of hypothermia, a potentially deadly condition suffered when the body temperature falls below 95 degrees Fahrenheit. Heart failure is a main cause of death in hypothermia.
Symptoms of hypothermia include:
– lack of coordination
– mental confusion
– slowed reactions
The AHA also warns that cold temperatures aren’t the only elements that “steal body heat.” You also need to be aware of the affect of high winds, snow and rain. The AHA says, “Wind is especially dangerous, because it removes the layer of heated air from around your body. At 30 degrees Fahrenheit in a 30-mile wind, the cooling effect is equal to 15 degrees Fahrenheit. Similarly, dampness causes the body to lose heat faster than it would at the same temperature in drier conditions.”
Who’s at high risk?
Children, the elderly and those with heart disease are at special risk. As people age, their ability to maintain a normal internal body temperature often decreases. Because elderly people seem to be relatively insensitive to moderately cold conditions, they can suffer hypothermia without knowing they’re in danger.
People with coronary heart disease often suffer angina pectoris (chest pain or discomfort) when they’re in cold weather. Some studies suggest that harsh winter weather may increase a person’s risk of heart attack due to overexertion.
What should we do to keep warm and safe?
“To keep warm, wear layers of clothing. This traps air between layers, forming a protective insulation. Also, wear a hat or head scarf. Heat can be lost through your head. And ears are especially prone to frostbite. Keep your hands and feet warm, too, as they tend to lose heat rapidly.
Don’t drink alcoholic beverages before going outdoors or when outside. Alcohol gives an initial feeling of warmth, because blood vessels in the skin expand. Heat is then drawn away from the body’s vital organs.
People who are outdoors in cold weather should avoid sudden exertion, like lifting a heavy shovel full of snow. Even walking through heavy, wet snow or snow drifts can strain a person’s heart.”
The AHA’s final message as we head into the coldest months?
“Enjoy the cold weather and stay safe!”