Staying active during the winter months is an excellent way to boost your immunity to protect yourself against the flu and cold. However, the drop in temperature can also place a tremendous strain on your heart. Indeed, heart attacks are more common in winter.
As temperatures drop, blood vessels tighten to speed blood flow to help you stay warm. This raises blood pressure, cholesterol levels and increases the risk of heart attacks. When planning cold weather cardio activities, consider these tips to stay healthy and protect your heart from the downside of colder temperatures.
1. Dress Warm
Even if someone is in great shape, they're likely not conditioned to the physical stress of outdoor activities during winter. One study found a 31 percent increase in heart attacks in the coldest months in comparison to the warmest. While it remains unknown whether we can control these seasonal shifts, staying warm is the best winter heart-protection strategy.
To keep warm, wear layers of clothing. This helps trap air between layers to form protective insulation. Even though it's cold, cardio will still cause you to break a sweat, so ensure you're not wearing clothes that retain moisture and sweat. Remember to wear a hat or head scarves alongside ear protection to prevent frostbite.
2. Take Breaks
Whether you're running or shoveling the front yard, you still want to take frequent rest breaks. To prevent exhaustion and to overstress your heart, make sure to take breaks. Listen to how your body feels. If you're planning an activity that will take time, try to schedule breaks in your routine to protect your heart.
Symptoms of exhaustion and fatigue to look for include dizziness, headache, muscle weakness, slowed responses, and sleepiness. Some people also experience an upset stomach, body aches, and flu-like symptoms.
3. Skip the Polar Bear Plunge
Most people associate the 'polar bear plunge' with a ritual that involves running into the freezing water until you're submerged. However, the same concept applies to dunking yourself into cold weather without the proper protection. This activity increases the risk for heart problems.
When you dunk into freezing weather, the body activates a process called “cold shock.” This gives people an adrenaline rush that also makes them hyperventilate, increasing their heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing. Taking a polar bear plunge is particularly dangerous for anyone with cardiovascular problems.
4. Don't Get Sedentary
While it might be tempting to avoid cold weather cardio altogether, that's not the solution either. Regular exercise is essential for heart health every season. Consider indoor cardio activities like an indoor pool or a yoga class. Add movement to your daily life by taking the stairs instead of the elevator, take regular breaks to walk around the office or your home.
If you plan to spend time outdoors, remember to dress warm, take breaks, and take it slow. Start by walking outside on a sunny winter day, or go for a short bike ride if weather conditions permit. A bit of movement will help you stay active and keep your heart, body, and mental health healthy.
5. Keep Monitoring Yourself
Overall, blood pressure is generally higher in winter. Consider getting a blood pressure monitor to keep an eye on your levels. People with coronary heart disease may struggle with chest pain and discomfort in cold weather. Reach out to your doctor if you're experiencing any of those symptoms.