Why Does Winter Increase Your Risk Of Heart Disease?
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The cold really is harder on your heart. Before the temperatures drop, know how to keep your ticker healthy and avoid a heart attack during winter.
It’s not just in your head: Cold weather can affect your health—in particular your heart. A 16-year study of more than 280,000 patients, reported on ScienceDaily, found that heart attack incidents peak in winter, which may be due to colder temperatures or changes in behavior.
According to the American Heart Association, keeping warm can help protect your heart. Cold weather steals body heat, which means the body has to fight harder to keep its core temperature warm enough. This is particularly important for the elderly, who may have less body fat and a diminished ability to sense temperature, and people with cardiovascular disease. Here are the potential risks of cold weather, and what you can do to reduce their impact on your heart.
We Get Less Exercise in Winter
Although it’s challenging, it’s important to keep moving when the temperature drops. Exercise makes your heart stronger (like all muscles) and helps protect against coronary artery disease and vascular disease.
According to cardiologists Jennifer H. Mieres, MD, FACC, and Stacey E. Rosen, MD, FACC, co-authors of Heart Smart for Women, Six Steps in Six Weeks to Heart-Healthy Living, your goal should be to take every opportunity to keep your body moving, rather than remaining sitting or standing still. Their suggestions include pacing the room while you’re on the phone or watching TV, parking your car farther away from your office, the store, etc., and getting up from your desk at least once every hour to stretch your legs for at least one minute.
Bad Sleep Habits
A good night’s sleep is crucial for your well-being and especially your heart health. Sleep heals and repairs your heart and blood vessels, and failing to get enough on a regular basis is linked to an increased risk of high blood pressure and heart disease.
If your room temperature is too low during winter it may interfere with your sleep pattern. The National Sleep Foundation recommends setting your thermostat to between 15 and 19 degrees Celsius for optimal sleep. You should also take care not to oversleep: 2012 research links too much sleep to a higher risk of heart disease. Try to stick to the National Sleep Foundation recommendations, which are seven to nine hours of sleep for most adults between 18 and 64 years of age.
The holidays can cause a great deal of emotional stress for many people, says Jennifer Haythe, MD, a cardiologist for the Center for Advanced Cardiac Care and co-director of the Women’s Center for Cardiovascular Health at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center. Stress harms your heart and blood vessels thanks to stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, and inflammatory proteins called cytokines. These substances lead to the hardening of the arteries and increase the risk of stroke and heart attack.
The first step to managing your stress levels is to identify what is causing them to rise. Then take some steps to reduce stress. If you feel more lonely and isolated during winter, call someone. Mieres and Rosen suggest relaxation techniques such as meditation and visualization, which have been proven to reduce anxiety and the severity of congestive heart failure. They recommend using a reputable website like the American Heart Association to learn effective stress management techniques.
Risk of Flu
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, flu viruses are most common during the fall and winter. Flu is highly contagious and associated with an increased risk of heart attacks and stroke. If you have heart disease or have had a stroke, it’s vital that you get the seasonal vaccine. The CDC not only recommends the flu vaccine, but also taking preventive measures, such as washing your hands often with soap and often water and after being in public spaces; and avoiding touching your eyes, nose, and mouth to prevent the spread of germs. You can protect others by covering your nose and mouth with a tissue when coughing or sneezing—throw the tissue away right after using it—and staying home when you are sick, except to get medical care.
If you’ve already experienced one heart attack or may be at risk for one, you should know your risks and physical limitations, warns Richard Kovacs, MD, a cardiologist at Indiana University Health. Avoid certain activities during cold weather, such as shoveling, walking in the snow, and driving in inclement weather, all of which can put added stress on the heart. Make sure you know the warning signs of a heart attack, especially shortness of breath and chest discomfort.
If you have to shovel snow, cardiologist Andrew Freeman, MD, offers advice on how to keep your heart safe. Don’t shovel first thing in the morning, because your blood is most likely to clot at this time of the day. “Give yourself time to get up and moving before going out and grabbing the shovel,” says Dr. Freeman. Warm up before shoveling, dress appropriately with your hands, head, and mouth covered, and work in shifts, taking a break every 15 minutes to help lessen the load on your heart.
Let us not forget the chance of having to push your car when and if it gets stuck in the snow.
It may be party season but know the risks of too much alcohol before you start celebrating. Alcohol can make you feel warmer than you really are and therefore can be particularly dangerous when you’re outside in the cold, say cardiologists at Northwestern Medicine. Be aware of your limits stick to them, and be prepared for being out at night in the cold. Stay warm and dry by dressing in layers, beginning with a lightweight, insulating base layer. Body-heat loss relates to how much skin is exposed, so don’t forget a hat, scarf, and gloves. Water is also great for retaining body heat, says to stay hydrated.
Ways To Boost Your Heart Health
Eat a piece of dark chocolate several times a week
Believe it or not, several small studies suggest dark chocolate could be good for your heart! The beneficial effects are likely due to chemicals in chocolate called flavonoids, which help arteries stay flexible. Other properties of the sweet stuff seem to make arteries less likely to clot and prevent the “bad” cholesterol, LDL, from oxidizing, making it less likely to form plaque.
Take a B vitamin complex every morning
When Swiss researchers asked more than 200 men and women to take either a combination of three B vitamins (folic acid, vitamin B6, and vitamin B12) or a placebo after they had surgery to open their arteries, they found that levels of homocysteine, a substance linked to an increased risk of heart disease, were 40 percent lower in those who took the vitamins.
Go to bed an hour earlier
A Harvard study of 70,000 women found that those who got less than seven hours of sleep had a slightly higher risk of heart disease. Researchers suspect lack of sleep increases stress hormones, raises blood pressure, and affects blood sugar levels.
Eat fish at least once a week
Have it grilled, baked, or roasted—just have it. A 2018 study published in the scientific journal Circulation found that eating one to two meals of non-fried fish or shellfish per week can prevent heart disease, heart failure, and sudden cardiac death. The American Heart Association recommends eating two 3.5-ounce servings of non-fried fish every week.
Eat a high-fiber breakfast
In a 2017 study published in the Journal of Chiropractic Medicine, researchers found that individuals consuming high amounts of dietary fiber can drastically reduce their risk of cardiovascular disease.
Sprinkle one ounce of ground flaxseed on your cereal or yogurt every day
This way you’ll be getting about two grams of omega-3 fatty acids, healthy fats that numerous studies find help prevent heart disease and reduce your risk of dying suddenly from heart rhythm abnormalities.
Drink at least two cups of tea a day
Black tea or green tea, it doesn’t seem to matter. At least, that’s the result of a Dutch study that found only 2.4 percent of 5,000 healthy Rotterdam residents who drank two or more cups of tea a day had a heart attack within six years, compared with 4.1 percent of those who never drank tea. Another major analysis of 17 studies on tea drinkers found three cups a day could slash the risk of a heart attack by 11 percent.
Take a baby aspirin every day
The University of North Carolina researchers found that the tiny tablet slashes the risk of heart disease by nearly a third in people who have never had a heart attack or stroke but who were at increased risk (because they smoked, were overweight, had high blood pressure, or had some other risk factor). Just double-check with your doctor that there’s no reason for you not to take aspirin daily.
Skip the soda and have orange juice instead
The reason has to do with inflammation, the body’s response to damage or injury. Chronic inflammation, linked to heart disease, is significantly affected by what you eat. For instance, researchers at the State University of New York found that drinking glucose-sweetened water triggered an inflammatory response in volunteers, but drinking the same calories in a glass of orange juice didn’t. They theorize that the anti-inflammatory effects of vitamin C and various flavonoids in juice may provide some protection.
Drink an 8-ounce glass of water every two hours
A study from Loma Linda University in California found that women who drank more than five glasses of water a day were half as likely to die from a heart attack as those who drank less than two. This is likely due to the fact that maintaining good hydration keeps blood flowing well; dehydration can cause sluggish blood flow and increase the risk of clots forming.
Take a supplement containing the amino acid L-arginine
A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that while moderate exercise alone reduced the development of atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries, adding L-arginine and the vitamins C and E to the mix boosted the effects astronomically.
The reishi mushroom or lingzhi mushroom – a medicinal fungus – has been heralded for centuries as the ‘King of Herbs’ due to its reputed medicinal qualities.
Known as ‘lingzhi’ in traditional Chinese medicine (translated as “spirit plant”), reishi is widely used and recommended for its supporting effects on the immune system.
A surprising amount of preliminary laboratory research and numerous preclinical trials suggest reishi has beneficial effects not only on the cardiovascular system but also on rheumatoid arthritis, chronic fatigue syndrome, diabetes, and cancer.
For the heart and cardiovascular system, reishi has demonstrated several beneficial effects, including a decrease in high blood pressure, credited to reishi’s ganoderic acids.
Some experts believe these ganoderic acids can lower triglyceride levels, eliminate excess cholesterol from the blood, reduce platelet stickiness, and even help normalize arrhythmia.
Studies have also found that Reishi can inhibit cholesterol biosynthesis suggesting it to be an effective way to lower blood cholesterol levels.
Hawthorn is well-known for its use in the treatment of various heart problems including heart failure in cases of declining cardiac performance, angina pectoris, hypertension with myocardial insufficiency, mild alterations of cardiac rhythm, and atherosclerosis – the deadly process most often behind cardiovascular diseases.
Numerous clinical trials have been conducted with crataegus on cardiac performance in heart failure.
Hawthorn has demonstrated numerous properties that may be beneficial in heart failure including anti-arrhythmic activities and the ability to increase coronary blood flow and cardiac output.
Garlic has demonstrated multiple beneficial cardiovascular effects.
Research has focused on garlic’s use in preventing atherosclerosis, while a number of studies have demonstrated that consumption of large quantities of fresh garlic can lower blood pressure, inhibit platelet aggregation, enhance fibrinolytic activity, reduce serum cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and protect the elastic properties of the aorta.
In support of this, a double-blind crossover study was conducted on moderately hypercholesterolemic men that compared the effects of 7.2 g of aged garlic extract with placebo on blood lipid levels.
Participants in the trial (aged 50-80 years) consumed 300 mg per day of standardized garlic powder for more than two years. The results showed that the pulse wave velocity and standardized elastic vascular resistance of the aorta were lower in the garlic group than in the control group.
Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba)
The route and kernels of ginkgo have been used for thousands of years in traditional Chinese medicine. However, it was in the 20th century that Ginkgo Biloba first gained attention in the West for its medicinal value after an effective, concentrated extract of Ginkgo Biloba leaves was developed in the 1960s.
Chinese research suggests green tea reduces the levels of LDL or ‘bad’ blood cholesterol, thereby reducing the risk of CVD, while good HDL cholesterol remains unchanged.
According to the Harvard Medical School, studies that looked at links between green tea and cardiovascular disease have had promising results.
A study of over 40,000 Japanese adults discovered that participants who drank more than five cups of green tea a day had a 26% lower risk of death from a heart attack or stroke and a 16% lower risk of death from all causes than people who drank less than one cup of green tea a day.
Always consult with your doctor before taking herbal remedies.
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