When we think of winter, we usually think of more colds, more Covid and more flu.
But, the risk of both heart attacks and strokes can double for the over-60s during cold periods too, according to stats.
NHS England’s data shows that prior to the pandemic, heart issues can be linked to approximately 40% of the excess deaths during consecutive days of low temperatures.
The British Heart Foundation found that for those aged 60 and over, they were twice as likely to suffer from a heart attack and stroke during at least four days of cold weather.
Here’s what you need to know.
Why does cold weather affect the heart?
According to the British Heart Foundation, lower temperatures mean:
1. Your heart rate can increase
2. Your blood pressure can increase
3. Your heart has to work harder than usual
4. Your blood can thicken, which could cause blood clots
What about behavioural changes?
As temperatures drop, we inevitably spend less time outside.
More time indoors increases the risk of passing respiratory infections around enclosed spaces. In turn, this can increase the risk of stroke, heart attack and blood clots even once the virus has passed out of your system.
Less exercise and being more sedentary in the winter usually triggers weight gain too, adding another pressure on your cardiac system.
Are there any other factors?
Air pollution worsens in winter, according to Dr Mark Porter in The Times.
He said: “Air quality can be poor at any time of the year, concentrations of nitrogen dioxide and particulates tend to be higher during the colder months and exposure increases the risk of both strike and heart attack.”
It’s likely this comes down to the increased reliance on cars due to the difficult weather, although fireplaces will have an impact too.
What can you do?
Dr Porter recommends everyone to follow advice on taking vitamin D supplements, as low levels can be linked to increased cardiovascular issues. He recommends taking at least 10mcg a day, on top of any recommended medication such as high blood pressure pills.
It’s also important not to push yourself too much in terms of physical exertion, especially after a large meal, because this will move blood to the gut away from the heart.
Get vaccinated against Covid too, to protect yourself against the virus which is known to make heart-related issues worse.
BHF suggests keeping your home warm (at least 18ºC) and staying indoors when it’s really cold, and layering up to keep your core temperature high.
Stay active to boost your immune system too, and have warm meals to give your body energy. If you suffer from angina, try to wear a scarf loosely wrapped around your mouth and nose to help you breathe in warmer air.