Brenda Watson, M.D. is saying: Bundle up for Your Heart’s Sake!

“Polar vortex” jokes aside, this month Americans saw some of the coldest temperatures in a century—we’re talking schools closing, travel plans halted, and more than 180 million people affected from New York to Atlanta. Even here in the Sunshine State we were bundling up a little more than usual! Still, we may not be out of the woods just yet, which is why I want to talk to you today about how cold weather can affect your heart.

WRAL News in Raleigh, North Carolina recently spoke with Dr. Islam Othman of Raleigh Cardiology, who explained that extremely cold temperatures can be dangerous for the heart and people with a history of heart disease should be especially cautious and avoid being outside in frigid temperatures for extended periods of time.

“You’ve got to be very careful,” says Othman. “As the weather gets colder, blood vessels narrow, and when that happens, the workload on the heart increases.” This is critical because the heart is responsible for maintaining circulation and core temperature, so if anything you want to decrease its workload as colder weather sets in. That means avoiding activities that put added strain on the heart (like shoveling and scraping ice) but experts also advise against outdoor exercise.

Who should be particularly careful during the colder months? Small children and the elderly, as well as those with known heart health issues. Dr. Allen Mask with the WRAL Health Team said many doctors and hospitals have already seen an increased amount of patients with underlying problems such as hypertension, angina, congestive heart failure, previous heart attacks, and even worsening asthma symptoms because of the extreme cold. His advice?

  • Minimize time spent outside: If possible, keep outdoor activity to a minimum.
  • Dress in layers: Hats and scarves are especially important, since you can lose 20% of your body heat from your head!
  • Avoid exercise outdoors: Instead of running in the park, stick to the treadmill at home or work out at the gym to protect your heart.
  • Wash your hands as often as you can.

Finally, experts recommend seeking help immediately at the first sign of trouble, including chest pain or tightness, shortness of breath and/or nausea—so remember to stay indoors and stay warm. Your heart will thank you!