During winter, the rates of incidence for hypertension, rhythm disorders, heart failure and sudden deaths of causes associated with the heart increase. There are many factors, such as temperature drops, decrease in physical activeness, air pollution, bad eating habits and hormonal changes that underlie this fact. For instance, prolonged exposure to cold weather causes the body temperature to drop and severe winds drive away the protective heat layer surrounding the body. The lowered temperature leads to constriction of the veins and, in turn, a decrease in blood flow. When the amount of oxygen supplied to the heart is reduced, the heart makes an effort to pump more blood, and both the heart rate and blood pressure rise. As a consequence, it becomes possible for a heart attack or stroke to be triggered. Therefore, it is vitally important to protect the heart during winter. Cardiologist and Associate Professor Güliz Erdem of Acıbadem International Hospital explained the measures that need to be taken to keep the heart healthy and made some important recommendations.
1. Take the warning signs given by your body seriously
Learn to listen to yourself and do not ignore the signs, such as chest pain, shortness of breath and palpitations that are ways in which your body warns you. For instance, if you are suffering from chest pain, do not wait for it to disappear on its own account and apply to the nearest emergency department whether it is day or night because time is of vital importance in heart attack cases.
2. Wear several layers of clothing
Instead of a single, thick layer of clothing, try to wear several layers in order to protect yourself from the cold. This is because an extra stratum of air, which acts as a sort of insulation element, is formed when the individual dresses in layers. The said layer makes it possible for the body temperature to be maintained more effectively. The head is one of the main regions at which heat loss occurs; therefore, do not neglect to put on a hat when going out. Pay particular attention to dressing in a way that will protect your ears, which are more susceptible to freezing than other parts, and your hands, which are quick to lose heat.
3. Take your medications regularly
Cardiologist and Associate Professor Güliz Erdem says, “If you have any heart diseases, do not neglect to take your medications regularly” and explains the reason behind this: “In winter, blood pressure rises not only in association with the cold weather but also with decrease in physical activeness and weight gain. Therefore, adopt measuring your blood pressure at regular intervals as a habit, particularly if you are suffering from hypertension. Bear in mind that just because you don’t feel your blood pressure rise does not mean that it is at a normal level. If there are any changes in your blood pressure, on no account make any adjustments in your medications before consulting your doctor.”
4. Continue exercising
It is essential for individuals to protect themselves from cold weather. However, cold weather should never become an excuse for skipping on exercise, at least when it comes to walks. Dress warmly and continue exercising unless there is icing or severe winds. In this sense, it will be enough for you to exercise for 30 minutes on 5 days of the week at a pace which will accelerate your respiration without rendering you unable to talk. If you are unable to exercise, taking walks at the described pace will also be effective. If you are unable to go outside, do not remain sedentary even while at home. Avoid sitting for prolonged periods and try to be active at least once every hour.
5. Protect yourself from diseases
Cardiologist and Associate Professor Güliz Erdem points out that another reason as to why heart diseases are triggered off in winter is the increase in respiratory tract infections such as the flu and pneumonia, and says: “For instance, when you have the flu, your body is put under even more stress. When you have a fever, your heart works faster and needs a greater amount of oxygen. At the same time, the loss of fluid in the body which is caused by the flu leads to a decrease in blood pressure and this, in turn, reduces the amount of oxygen supplied to the heart. All these can end up triggering heart failure. It should not be forgotten that the body is an integrated system and a disease in one part of the body can affect any other part in the body as well.
6. It is essential to eat fruits and vegetables
In your fight against diseases, do not neglect to have vitamin, mineral and fiber-rich winter fruits and vegetables on your table which will strengthen the immune system and pay particular attention to making sure that these are fresh. Having fruits and vegetables 4 or 5 times a day will provide you with support in leading a healthy life. Get into the habit of using as little salt as possible during meals. When having grains, choose whole grains that are rich in fiber. Make sure to eat fish 2 days a week. Do not use saturated and trans fats in your dishes and stay away from sugar as much as possible.
7. Declare war on depression
Susceptibility to depression increases in winter due to varying reasons. Rises in levels of stress hormones such as cortisol can in turn trigger heart diseases such as heart attacks and hypertension. Finding out the underlying cause of stress and, if necessary, consulting a doctor for treatment will help you overcome the problem early. Meeting with family members and friends or, if you are unable to go outdoors, visiting your neighbors will also help you feel better.
8. Watch out for vitamin D deficiency!
Many studies conducted in the recent years indicate that vitamin D deficiency is also a risk factor for cardiovascular diseases such as heart failure and strokes. Cardiologist and Associate Professor Güliz Erdem notes that the most effective way of getting vitamin D is through exposure to sunlight and shares with us the following information: “However, in winter months, sunlight enters the atmosphere at a high angle and this causes for the atmosphere to block out a considerable amount of the UVB rays that are necessary for synthesis of vitamin D in the body. Therefore, vitamin D supplements may become essential when the individual is unable to get enough sunlight. Before taking such supplements, the individual needs to consult a doctor and have their vitamin D levels checked.”