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While the season brings thoughts of holiday cheer, seasonal stress, bad habits and cooler weather pose a serious risk to your heart.

More people have heart attacks in the winter than any other time of year. By making simple changes, you can help give yourself the gift of good heart health this holiday season.

Dashing through the cold

Though the reason for the winter surge in heart disease is still being researched, the relationship between cold weather and your blood vessels is well understood. Cold temperatures cause blood vessels to narrow. To keep blood flowing to chilled extremities, the heart works harder, causing elevated blood pressure.

Research conducted by a team at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine found when temperatures dropped just 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit, approximately 2 percent more heart attacks occurred.

One simple solution is to limit your exposure to cold weather. Keep trips outdoors brief and bundle up in warm clothing from head to toes. That includes your face. The simple act of breathing in cold air can cause a reaction that leads to heart strain, so consider covering your nose and mouth with a warm scarf or mask made of moisture-wicking fabric.

Sunny side up

Low levels of vitamin D have been linked to increased risk of heart disease. Gloomy weather and harsh conditions make it difficult to soak up the nutrient naturally this time of year.

Add a hearty dose of the sunny vitamin to your meals with eggs, fortified dairy products and fish such as salmon and tuna. Talk with your primary care provider about testing your vitamin D levels. He or she may recommend lifestyle changes or supplements to help boost the amount of vitamin D in your system if necessary. If you do receive a supplement, try to take it with a meal to boost absorption.

Siloam Springs Internal Medicine offers comprehensive care, from routine and preventive health services to special needs. Helping you to maintain good health and wellness – for a lifetime – is our primary goal. Call 479-215-3070 today to schedule an appointment or visit NW-Physicians.com.

All things in moderation

Hitting the holiday libations or consuming more caffeine than normal is hard on your body at the best of times. When paired with the strain of seasonal stress, it may lead to a condition called holiday heart syndrome – an irregular heartbeat that can compound heart health issues to devastating effect.

Help prevent holiday heart syndrome by dialing down the amount of alcohol you consume, skipping the salty, fatty food options and staying well hydrated.

Concerned about your heart health? Quality cardiovascular care is right around the corner at Northwest Health Cardiology in Siloam Springs. To schedule an appointment, call 479-757-5200.

What goes around

Beware other winter health hazards. Infections such as the influenza virus, covid-19 and pneumonia cause inflammation that may irritate preexisting heart conditions. Prevent collateral damage by getting immunized against the flu and pneumonia as soon as possible, keeping communal areas and commonly touched objects germ free with frequent disinfecting, and practicing regular hand hygiene.

Easing into physical activity

It may be the time of year for fitness resolutions, but resist the urge to go full tilt if you haven't hit the gym in a while.

If you're just beginning to get physically active, the trick is to start slow and build endurance, muscle and strength over time. To stay heart healthy in the winter, get and stay active year-round.

Consider using a heart rate monitor to keep tabs on how your ticker is fairing under the added strain. Exercise in short sessions at 60 percent of your maximum heart rate for several days, and build from there.

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