Winter and Heart Health: How to Protect Your Heart in Cold Weather

Fact checked by Olga Sadouskaya, MD
Clinical Pharmacologist, Chief Medical Officer

Winter can be a tough season for everyone. It can be too cold to go outside, too cold to work out, and tempting to eat hot comfort food while staying inside all day. It’s also cold and flu season, so your immune system may be more vulnerable. With all these factors at play, knowing how to protect your heart in cold weather is essential. Cold weather can strain your heart as the body works harder to keep warm.

In this article, we’ll look at tips and strategies for keeping your heart healthy during winter and discuss how to manage a preexisting heart condition and recognize the signs of a heart problem during winter. This way, you can help keep your heart healthy and strong, no matter how low the thermometer goes.

How cold weather affects your heart

Cold weather can be a problem for people with heart disease and other chronic health issues. But even if you’re healthy, cold weather can cause problems for your heart. Here are some ways that cold weather can be harmful to your heart:

  • Constriction of blood vessels: The constriction of blood vessels in cold weather is the body’s natural response to preserve heat. When the temperature drops, the body’s thermoregulatory system causes blood vessels in the skin to constrict, which reduces blood flow to the surface of the skin and helps to conserve heat. This response is known as vasoconstriction.
However, this can also increase blood pressure and put extra strain on the heart, particularly for people who have existing heart conditions.
An older couple exercising in winter to protect the heart in cold weather

Is there a connection between cold weather and heart attacks?

Cold weather can cause a temporary increase in blood pressure, stress, cholesterol, and blood sugar. In addition, a study by scientists at Lund University found that heart attack rates increased on cold days compared to warm ones. The data was based on 274,000 people in Sweden who had heart attacks between 1998 and 2013.

Cold weather can cause blood vessels to constrict, which can increase blood pressure and put extra strain on the heart.

Additionally, the winter months can be a time of increased stress and decreased physical activity, which can contribute to the development of heart disease.

Overall, taking steps to protect your heart during the winter months is especially important for those at a higher risk of heart disease. Still, everyone can benefit from caring for their heart during the winter.

Can cold weather cause blood clots?

Cold weather can increase the risk of blood clots, also known as thrombosis. When the body is exposed to cold temperatures, blood vessels constrict to conserve heat, which can cause the blood to thicken and slow down. This can increase the risk of blood clots forming, particularly in the legs (known as deep vein thrombosis, or DVT) and lungs (pulmonary embolism, or PE).

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Additionally, people may be less active during the winter, increasing the risk of blood clots forming in the legs. Sitting or standing for long periods can cause blood to pool in the legs, increasing the risk of clots forming. People with existing risk factors for blood clots, such as those with a history of DVT or PE, or who have recently had surgery, are at a higher risk of blood clots during the winter.

Tips to protect your heart in cold weather

The winter months can be dangerous for your health in general. The cold, dry air makes it easier for viruses to spread, and the risk of falling is higher when you’re out in the snow. If you want to keep your heart healthy during this time of year, here are some things that you can do to protect your heart:

  • Dress warmly. Wear layers of warm clothing to protect yourself from the cold. Make sure to cover your head, ears, and hands, as these areas are particularly susceptible to being affected by cold weather.
  • Stay active. Regular physical activity is essential for maintaining heart health. Even if it’s cold outside, try to find ways to stay active, such as taking a brisk walk or swimming in an indoor pool.
  • Manage stress. Cold weather can bring additional stressors, such as seasonal affective disorder or holiday stress. Find ways to manage stress, such as practicing stress-reducing techniques like meditation or yoga or seeking counseling or therapy.
  • Eat a healthy diet. Eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains can help lower your heart disease risk. Try to avoid processed foods, saturated fats, and added sugars.
Healthy salad to support heart health in winter
  • Watch your weight. Cold weather can make it more challenging to be active and maintain a healthy weight. Try to maintain a healthy weight, as being overweight is a risk factor for heart disease.
  • Don’t smoke. Smoking is a significant risk factor for heart disease. If you smoke, try to quit and avoid exposure to secondhand smoke.
  • Check your blood pressure. High blood pressure is a risk factor for heart disease. Have your blood pressure checked regularly and work with your doctor to keep it under control.
  • Stay hydrated. Drinking enough water is important for maintaining overall health. Cold weather can dehydrate you faster than warm weather, so drink plenty of fluids.
  • Monitor your symptoms. Be aware of the symptoms of a heart attack, such as chest pain or discomfort, shortness of breath, and unusual fatigue. If you experience any of these symptoms, seek medical attention right away.

In conclusion

Winter months have the additional challenge of cold weather and shortened daylight hours, which can cause your physical activity levels to sink and your heart health to suffer. Hopefully, this article has given you valuable insights into how cold weather affects your heart, as well as some tips to help you avoid cold weather heart attacks.

Remember that even if you don’t live where temperatures drop below freezing, there are still ways to protect yourself from the wintertime blues. If you have any questions about heart health, reach out to your doctor for clarification.

March 6, 2023