Take care of your heart when it’s cold

Lesley Dobson / 04 January 2017

Why cold weather is a health risk for your heart and what to do to protect it.



Winter is a time when we really need to look after our health. This is especially important when it comes to your heart, particularly if you already have heart health problems.

Winter health: what to watch out for

When winter temperatures drop, serious heart health problems become far more likely. And the longer the cold spell lasts, the greater the risk. According to British Heart Foundation funded research, carried out last year (2016), serious cardiovascular disease problems, such as heart attack and stroke are nearly twice as likely to happen when we have three or more consecutive cold days.

The scientists working on this study found that a series of cold days one after the other could have a similar effect on heart health at any time of year, but this is more likely in winter. And the risk is greater if you smoke and drink alcohol.

“Cold weather kills and these figures paint a worrying picture for winter in the UK,” says Dr Mike Knapton, Associate Medical Director at the British Heart Foundation.

“The strong spike in deaths from heart attacks and strokes during prolonged cold spells highlights the need for research into the factors that specifically increase people’s risk in the winter and how people can reduce it.”

Cold weather can trigger heart problems because it can increase your blood pressure and your heart rate. This happens because cold temperatures make your blood vessels narrow. This means that it is harder for your heart to pump blood around your body, and this can raise your blood pressure.

Stay warm and well

  • Try to keep your home warm. According to the NHS Choices website when the weather is cold your home should be heated to 18C (65F), minimum. Keeping yourself warm in winter is good for your overall health. Being warm indoors when it’s cold outside doesn’t just help to protect your heart, it can help keep you free from colds and flu, as well as providing some protection against more serious conditions, such as pneumonia.
  • Make sure your windows are properly closed, and check for draughts (you can buy draught-proofing materials in many home improvement stores).
  • Keep moving - make sure you get up and move around at least once every hour.
  • Layers of clothing keep you warmer than one thick shirt or jumper. This is because the layers trap warm air, and so help to keep your body warm.
  • If you have to go outside make sure you are wrapped up warmly. As well as a thick coat that reaches your knees, wear warm gloves, a hat, and a scarf wrapped around your neck. If it is really cold, wrap your scarf so that it covers your mouth and nose, as this helps to prevent you breathing in really cold air.
  • Make sure you eat enough. Have hot meals, and hot or warm drinks, to warm you up, and to keep your body well fuelled. Also, make sure that you have plenty of non-perishable foods in your cupboards, in case you can’t get out to the shops. If you don’t already do this, it might be a good idea to order your weekly groceries online from a local supermarket, and have them delivered to your home. (This service may not be available in all areas.)

More advice on how to stay well this winter

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