Millions of people worldwide die due to heart and blood vessel diseases. Heart attack incidents rise with the onset of winter. Consequently, it is necessary to understand how the cold weather affects one’s heart and how to protect it from such weather.
Several changes occur within our body during the winter months, making the heart more vulnerable. The heart rate and blood pressure rise, putting extra burden on the heart. The tendency of the blood to form clots increases and stress hormone levels rise. Due to these changes, heart attack and brain stroke cases increase in winters.
Some risk factors and tips to manage them are highlighted below:
Exposure to cold, high winds and snow: Indians are fond of morning walks. Under normal conditions there is no problem. But in winters, this may affect people adversely because of exposure to cold. Accordingly, it’s advisable to avoid venturing out before sunrise, besides being well protected from cold by warm clothing. Wearing several layers is better than wearing a single layer of thick clothing. Special attention should paid to cover the head, neck and ears because maximum loss of body heat occurs from these areas. Gloves and thick socks provide additional protection. If early morning walks are a must, it is better done indoors in a warm atmosphere on a treadmill or a stationary exercise bicycle.
Over-exertion: Although it is necessary to continue regular accustomed exercises, unaccustomed heavy exertion beyond an individual’s capacity is strictly inadvisable. Over-exertion – especially if accompanied by mental stress such as running to catch a train – must be avoided. When any heavy outdoor activity is unavoidable, doing the job at a slow pace and taking frequent breaks before exhaustion occurs and going indoors into a warm atmosphere can be helpful.
Overheating: The body can end up overheating, particularly after heavy exertion, if one exercises heavily while fully covered in a warm indoor environment. One indication about overheating is when a person feels uncomfortable and begins perspiring beneath warm clothing. If this happens, allow the body to cool gradually by removing some of the warm clothing, stop exercising and relax.
Air pollution: People residing in Delhi NCR are familiar with air pollution and how it worsens during winters via fog and smog. Increased incidents of heart attacks and strokes in winters are attributed to some pollutants such as small particulate matter being at high levels during winters. Reducing air pollution is not an easy task and requires multilevel interventions. But individuals can reduce their risk by spending more time indoors or using air purifiers and protective masks when venturing out.
Infection: The number of infectious ailments – of the respiratory tract specifically – increase dramatically during winters, becoming the cause for increased hospitalizations and death, especially of the elderly. Infections trigger an inflammatory response in the body, including the blood vessels, leading to higher incidents of heart attack and strokes. Besides protection from cold, the preventive steps include avoiding overcrowded closed spaces, using protective masks, frequent hand washing, and preventing contact of the eyes and nose with unwashed hands. One of the mainstays of preventing flu and pneumonia is by immunization via their respective vaccines, which is mandatory for cardiac patients and elderly persons.
Lifestyle changes: Major changes in the lifestyle occur during winter months. The exercise routine takes a back seat, frequent parties add to the consumption of excessive unhealthy diets, reduced sleep times as well as increased smoking and alcohol intake. These factors heighten the risk of heart attacks and stroke. Therefore, people should be careful to avoid falling into this trap if they wish to stay fit during winters. Skipping medicines is also one of the reasons patients face problems.
Although winters are enjoyable, don’t go overboard by breaking discipline. Look after your heart well if you wish to enjoy life heartily. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year in advance!