Why Winter Heart Attacks Are More  Common No Matter the Weather (And What You Can Do) | The Survival Doctor

Part 2 in a two-part series on cold weather and your heart. See part 1 here.

by James Hubbard, MD, MPH

In my last post, I talked about the effects of cold weather on your heart. But there are other possible reasons winter is prime time for heart attacks even when it’s warm out. So there are even more steps than the ones I mentioned that may help lower your risk.

Beyond the Cold: More Ways the Winter Affects Your Heart

We’re not really certain how much any of the following factors increase your risk for a heart attack. But for now, it’s a best guess that they do at least to some degree.

  • Stress. The winter holidays bring on more stress, which can be hard on your heart.
  • Depression. The holidays can also trigger depression. So can the short days and having to stay in. Depression leads to not really caring about diet or making sure all prescription medicines are taken—like ones for your heart.
  • Vitamin D deficiency. Less daylight and less getting outside may lead to a vitamin D deficiency, which increases risk for heart attacks.
  • Viral infections. Colds, flu, and other viruses are more prevalent in the winter, and there’s some evidence that they can increase the risk for heart attacks.
Steps to Help Prevent a Winter Heart Attack

So, with what we know now, here are some winter heart tips to consider.

General heart-healthy winter tips:

  1. Layer and stay warm to fight those cold-weather issues I talked about in the last post (increased blood pressure and blood clotting ability).
  2. Continue healthy eating with a variety of fresh fruit and vegetables. Depending on where you live, you may not have a lot of local produce to choose from, but frozen fruits and veggies are healthy too.
  3. Consider getting a flu shot.
  4. Keep an eye on your blood pressure, and keep it under control.
  5. If you have symptoms of a heart attack or stroke don’t ignore them and hope they’ll go away. Even if you’re stuck in the wilderness or the roads are frozen, call for help immediately if at all possible. If you absolutely can’t get to a doctor there’s not much you can do, but here’s my post.

Mental health tips:

  1. Talk to your provider if you’re showing any sign of depression.
  2. If you think the lack of light is getting to you, talk to your doctor about getting a light box specifically made to treat seasonal affective disorder.
  3. Mitigate holiday-related stress and anxiety as best you can. Here are some commonly used supplements for anxiety, with my take on them. (Even without the holidays, anxiety may be a factor that needs attention and relief.)

Winter exercise tips:

  1. Stay in good shape year-round to keep your heart in tip-top shape. During the winter, if it’s cold in your area, that may mean altering your exercise routine or changing it altogether. You could use an inside treadmill, go to a health club, walk in the mall, play indoor tennis, swim in an indoor pool, use exercise videos, etc.
  2. Don’t overdo it. Walking in the snow, shoveling, etc., can cause more exertion than you’re used to and, because of the other increased risks due to the cold, lead to a higher risk of heart attack than overexertion in the summer.
  3. Keep in mind those cold-weather exercise tips I shared in my last post: start slow, take breaks, stay hydrated, and stay fueled.

Winter supplement tips:

  1. Consider a vitamin D supplement. Current recommendations are 600 IU per day. Some suggest up to 2,000 IU.
  2. Consider a daily baby aspirin. I have no actual proof, but it seems to me that if the cold increases the risk of your blood clotting, an aspirin might help. And we already know that it can reduce the risk of heart attack or stroke if you’ve already had one. Of course, it has risks also, so check with your health care provider before starting.
  3. Consider a fish oil supplement for the same reason as the aspirin. Check with your doctor though, especially if you’re combining with aspirin.

What about you? Do you make any special efforts to prevent a winter heart attack?