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Healthy You

How does cold weather affect your heart?

Friday, January 12, 2024 4:30 PM

By Endeavor Health

For those who live in seasonal climates like the Midwest, cold winter weather tends to be a sensory experience somewhat forgotten through the year until that first blast of icy wind hits the face.

We shiver, bundle up and head out into the elements.

The cold air not only causes reflexive shoulder hunching, it causes our blood vessels to constrict and our heart to work harder to maintain our body temperature.

Man in cold weather

“Studies have shown that sudden exertion outdoors in cold weather poses some cardiac risk,” said Paul Ruzumna, MD, a cardiologist with Endeavor Health. “But it’s important to stay active, even in cold weather. Warm up indoors first and avoid sudden strenuous activity, such as shoveling snow.”

Staying warm is critical in cold weather. Wearing layers of clothing is one way to accomplish this, as well as covering your head, ears, hands and feet.

Being careful with exertion – such as shoveling heavy, wet snow – is also critical, especially for those with heart disease.

Keep these tips in mind if you need to shovel snow:

  • Avoid shoveling in the early morning when heart attacks most often occur.
  • March in place or otherwise warm up your muscles before shoveling.
  • Don’t shovel soon after eating a heavy meal, drinking caffeinated beverages or smoking.
  • Pace yourself, taking breaks every 15 minutes.
  • When possible, push the snow rather than lift it. When you do lift, pick up only a small amount at a time.
  • Cover your head, wear layers and skid-resistant footwear.
  • Shovel the snow when it’s still fresh and powdery.
  • It’s okay to use a shovel that’s 24 inches wide for light snow, but use a narrower, lighter model when snow is wet and heavy. Consider owning a variety of shovels for different uses.
  • Check with your doctor before shoveling if you’re sedentary and over 40, especially if you have risk factors or a history of heart disease.
  • If you do experience chest pain, dizziness or other symptoms of a heart attack, call 911.

Your heart is in good hands when you choose Endeavor Health Cardiovascular Institute. Learn more.

NorthShore University HealthSystem, Swedish Hospital, Northwest Community Healthcare and Edward-Elmhurst Health are now united under one name, Endeavor Health. We’re setting a new standard for healthcare that’s focused on you, because your best health is our endeavor. Learn more.