Healthy Living: Protect your heart in the winter
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No matter where you live, your risk for a heart attack doubles in the winter.
Interventional Cardiologist Dr. Ayman Iskander said, "Zero might not be too cold for us. But for California, a temperature of 40 might be too cold for them. It depends on how your body is used and adjusted during the summertime and the sudden switch to winter time."
Doctors can't pinpoint one specific thing as the cause. But there are several theories.
The longer, darker days cause hormonal imbalances, lower vitamin D intake and increase the likelihood for depression - all factors that affect the heart. Plus cold weather takes a toll on the body.
Iskander said, "Cold temperatures tend to raise the blood pressure, tend to constrict the arteries, so it restricts the blood flow to the heart."
Doctors say the stress of the holidays puts stress on the heart. Plus, more illnesses like the flu makes the heart work harder.
Iskander said, "This basically lowers the immunity and increases the risk of inflammation. When inflammation is too high, it tends to weaken the cap that cover plaques inside the arteries and they can rupture and lead to a heart attack."
Getting a flu shot is one way to reduce the risk. Aside from a good diet, regular exercise and not smoking, the most simple advice is to stay warm and avoid over-exertion in the cold, like shoveling snow.
Iskander said, "Start going outside and gradually start to shovel. Do it for a short period of time, maybe 10-15 minutes at the most. Then, get inside, warm up a little bit, rest a little bit, and then repeat the same thing. Don't last for a long time. And don't just get out of bed and go and shovel snow immediately. That's a big huge risk."
Also, avoid drinking alcohol. Doctors say it opens the blood vessels and takes heat away from the organs, which can lead to hypothermia. Know the signs of hypothermia and seek help immediately. Most hypothermia deaths are caused by heart failure.
Also, avoid warming up too quickly.
Iskander said, "Try to avoid the temptation of drinking a hot cup of coffee or tea or smoke immediately when you come inside the house from very extreme weather because that tends to constrict the arteries and can induce a heart attack."
Finally, learn CPR. If provided immediately after cardiac arrest, it doubles a person's chance of survival. Following these few simple steps can help save a life.