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Don’t Let Winter Weather Give You a Heart Attack

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

 

Don't let the snow threaten your heart--take these Winter Weather Warning tips seriously this season.

While we dig out from one storm and prepare for the next, take time to remember that snowy conditions can be surprisingly threatening to our health--particularly cardiac health. 

GoLocal spoke to Dr. Peter Cohn, a cardiologist with Southcoast Physicians Group and Associate Physician-in-Chief of the Cardiovascular Care Center at Southcoast Health System, about staying healthy during snowstorm season.

1. What are the most dangerous threats of winter weather when it comes to heart (and general) health?

Shoveling snow is dangerous and should be avoided by anyone with a known cardiac condition, other risk factors and the elderly. Increases in blood pressure, heart rate and extremes of temperature can lead to instability of coronary disease which can lead to a acute heart attack. Anyone who is out of shape should not engage in shoveling.

Extreme cold causes angina (heart pain) to worsen in cardiac patients.

In addition, the cold weather contributes to inactivity as people are less likely to exercise in the cold. Inactivity leads to weight gain which contributes to higher blood pressure and higher blood sugar which can lead to diabetes.

Other non cardiac issues that arise in the winter include hazardous falls due to snow and ice. This is most common in the elderly population.

2. With last weekend's blizzard dumping feet of snow on us, what can we do to avoid any problems when it comes to snow removal?

First and foremost if you have cardiac disease, multiple risk factors for coronary disease, are sedentary or elderly, or any combination of these conditions, please do not shovel. Ask a family member or friend to shovel for you or hire someone. Even snowblowers in heavy snow can be very strenuous to the above mentioned group of people. If you do shovel - push don't lift, go slow, take breaks, wear layers of clothes and hydrate.

3. We all worry about snow shoveling... what else is at issue during winter?

Other issues include extreme cold, lack of exercise due to extreme cold, and ice hazards. Also, the fall/winter season brings flu and in cold weather people spend more time in doors with large groups of people (holiday parties, the mall, restaurants, theatres, etc.) which increases the spread of flu and other viruses.

4. What can RIers do right away to be healthier this month?

It is important to continue your exercise program. Find an indoor location to exercise such as a health club, YMCA , or senior center, where you can exercise during the cold season. Options for indoor exercise include the Wii or Kinect exercise game, a DVD exercise video, or mall walking. This keeps you in shape, helps avoids weight gain and deconditioning, and keeps blood pressure and blood sugar down.

Those with heart disease and blood pressure issues should watch their sodium and fat intake.

If you are a smoker, Heart Month is a great time to set a quit date. There are many resources available to help you quit. Talk to your primary care physician or cardiologist about the free and subsidized programs that are available in your area. 

For more information on heart health during winter, check out the American Heart Assocation's information here.

 

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