Can the season really affect the heart?Radu Bercan/Shutterstock
It doesn’t seem like the outside temps should affect your ticker, but research shows a link between cold weather and heart attack risk. One U.S. study looking at about 600,000 heart failure hospitalizations over three years found that the likelihood of dying—and spending more and staying longer in the hospital—spiked in the winter. (Watch out for these 10 silent signs of congestive heart failure.) A Canadian study of about 113,000 heart failure patients 65 and older reports that for every 1°C (1.8°F) the average temperature drops, heart attack risk increases by 0.7 percent. So going from 75°F to 32°F, for instance, would increase risk by about 17 percent. There are a number of reasons why your heart is more vulnerable in the coldest months. Don’t miss these other times heart attacks are more likely to occur.
Your blood vessels constrictHalfpoint/Shutterstock
When your body is working to keep your body warm, it focuses most on protecting vital organs like the brain and lungs from extreme temperatures. One of its responses is to constrict blood vessels, making it harder for blood to reach your whole body. “It’s trying to preserve blood flow to your vital organs,” says Martha Gulati, MD, cardiologist at The University of Arizona and editor-in-chief of CardioSmart.org. That means your heart needs to beat harder and faster to supply your body with the oxygen it needs, she says. For instance, walking down the block might be easy breezy in the spring, but that distance leaves your heart pounding when it’s cold out. As your heart rate and blood pressure increase, you raise your risk of blood clots, stroke, and heart attack. Protect yourself by dressing warm—especially your hands, feet, and head, which can lose a lot of body heat—so your heart doesn’t have to work so hard to regulate your temperature, says Dr. Gulati. Read these 7 signs you could be headed for a heart attack to see if you’re at risk.