10 Ways To Keep Your Heart Healthy In Winter

Did you know that the cold weather can be tough on your heart? Thankfully, small actions can effectively safeguard your cardiovascular health during the winter months. Take charge of your heart health and stay well with 10 ways to keep your heart healthy in winter.

By Dr. Vikram Kolhari
06 Feb 2023

Winter can be a challenging time for heart health. Cold weather can increase the risk of heart attack and stroke, and the holiday season can lead to added stress and unhealthy habits. Unfortunately, the annual number of deaths from cardiovascular disease (CVD) in India has risen from 2.26 million in 1990 to 4.77 million in 2020. It is important to take steps to protect your heart during the winter months. We spoke to Dr. Vikram Kolhari, Consultant Cardiologist, Apollo hospital, Bengaluru to understand ways to protect your heart in winter, including tips on staying active, maintaining a healthy diet, managing stress, and more.


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How Does Winter Affect Heart Health?

As the chilly winds of winter blow in, it's important to be aware of the added health risks that come with the drop in temperature. While we may all be familiar with the increased likelihood of common cold, fever, and flu during this time of year, did you know that it can also be particularly challenging for those with heart conditions? Dr. Vikram explains, “Humans are warm-blooded animals which means we are capable of maintaining an internal core temperature of our body by various natural phenomena performed by our internal system involuntarily, for eg. In cold conditions, our vessels (that carry oxygenated/deoxygenated blood) constrict in order to reduce their surface area and preserve heat loss. Patients with hypertension, high cholesterol levels, or Atherosclerosis (with a lot of fat deposited on the walls of their blood vessels) already have narrow vessels’ diameter that causes an insufficient supply of blood and oxygen to the heart, cold weather further increases the risk of excess narrowing of the arteries that supply to our all body parts and the vital organs.

Since the heart is a very important organ that pumps blood and oxygen to all parts of the body, it is very crucial that it itself receives proper oxygen and blood for normal functioning, but the excessive reduced flow of blood puts the heart under pressure and may cause increased heart rate, increased BP which increases the risk of heart failure (that is the reduced outflow of blood from the heart to the rest of the body).


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As the temperature drops, our bodies work harder to keep warm. This means that the heart has to work double time to maintain blood flow and keep us warm. Unfortunately, this added strain on the heart can also lead to constriction of blood vessels, which can decrease the oxygen and nutrient supply to the heart muscles and compromise overall heart health.

Winter is also a time when the risk of developing blood clots increases, and for some, blood pressure and cholesterol levels may rise. This could potentially increase the risk of a heart attack. So, it's important to be mindful of the added risks and take steps to protect our hearts during the colder months.


Related story: Lifestyle Changes That keep Your Heart Healthy, A Cardiologist’s Code


10 Ways To Keep Your Heart Healthy In Winter

1. Protect Yourself From The Flu

As we move into the colder months, it's important to remember that the flu is more prevalent during this time and can lead to severe complications, particularly for those who are older or have existing heart conditions. If you live with a vulnerable person or work in a role that involves frequent contact with others, you may also be at a higher risk of contracting the flu.

Does the flu impact the heart? Dr. Vikram says, “Yes, but mostly in patients with existing cardiovascular disease risks, because during flu the body aggressively fights against the viral infection that leads to internal inflammation which in turn places higher demand stress on the heart to pump out more blood into the system, a person with an already compromised cardiovascular system might find stressful.” To help combat the spread of the flu, the government is offering the flu vaccine to more people than ever before this winter. If you haven't received the vaccine yet, it's not too late to get it. Eligibility varies, but even if you're not eligible for the free vaccine, you can still choose to pay for it or check if your employer is offering it.


Related story: Seasonal Flu 101: Everything You Need To Know


2. Practice Moderation

As the winter season rolls in, it's easy to let our healthy habits slip. With warm comfort foods and festive celebrations, it can be all too tempting to indulge in a bit more alcohol and relaxed eating. But did you know, this can actually put extra stress on our bodies and specifically, our hearts?

Consuming a diet high in saturated or trans fats has been linked to heart disease, and too much salt and alcohol can raise blood pressure, putting extra strain on the heart.

But, it's not all bad news. We can still enjoy the seasonal delights while taking care of our heart health. By practising moderation and choosing heart-healthy foods such as those that are low in sodium. With a diet rich in whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, we can indulge in the season’s cheer without compromising our heart health.


Related story: 5 Yoga Postures For A Healthy Heart


3. Look After Your Mental Health

As the temperature drops and the days get shorter, it's easy to let stress take over. But too much stress can harm our immune system, making us more susceptible to illnesses. And let's be real, it's all too easy to turn to sugary snacks and alcohol to cope, but that's only going to make our mood worse.

The winter months are the perfect time to focus on self-care, and one of the most important self-care practices is getting enough good quality sleep. Not only does it help us feel refreshed and energised, but it also plays a vital role in maintaining our overall health. Consistent bedtime routine and healthy sleep habits can help improve our sleep.

And there are many other ways to combat stress and boost our mood during the winter. Regular physical activity, keeping in touch with friends and family, and practising mindfulness or meditation can all make a big difference.


Related story: How To Ask Help With Mental Health


4. Keep Moving

Being overweight can put a strain on your heart and immune system, making it harder for your body to fight off infections and increasing the risk of complications if you catch coronavirus.

Winter weather can make exercise harder, but there are still indoor activities you can do, such as virtual exercise classes, chair-based exercises, and quick living room workouts. If you don't mind the cold, a winter walk can also be a great way to stay active.


Related story: Many Powerful Benefits Of Walking Everyday


5. Avoid Extensive Workouts

If you're not accustomed to physical activity, it's important to be cautious when engaging in outdoor activities during the colder months. Cold air can cause constriction of the arteries, decreasing blood flow and oxygen supply to the heart. It's important to listen to your body and not push yourself too hard, especially if you have risk factors for heart disease.

Staying mindful of how your body is responding to movement is essential if you are not physically fit or have risk factors for heart disease. The trick is to gradually increase the intensity of your workouts and give yourself plenty of recovery time between each workout.


Related story: Achievable Fitness Goals For Working Women


6. Keep Yourself Warm

Winter weather can be deceiving and it's important to stay warm both inside and outside of your home. Cold temperatures can worsen symptoms of heart disease or even trigger new symptoms. To help you stay warm, here are some tips to keep in mind:

  • To stay active and avoid being sedentary, it is important to move around every hour.
  • Wearing multiple layers of lightweight clothing can be more effective at trapping heat than one bulky layer.
  • To retain heat, it is recommended to wear accessories such as a hat, scarf and gloves.
  • To make sure your bed is warm, consider using a hot water bottle, an electric blanket or extra blankets.
  • To stay warm, it is important to avoid consuming alcohol before going out in the cold, as it can cause blood vessels to expand and draw heat away from vital organs.


Related story: A Naturopathic Diet For Better Winter Immunity


7. Schedule Regular Checks

Visiting your doctor regularly will help you keep tabs on how well your body is doing overall. At these appointments, they’ll take a look at your cholesterol levels, blood pressure and other key risk factors for developing heart disease or having an attack or stroke. Having this information handy can make all the difference if you start feeling any discomfort in response to colder temperatures or increased stress levels from holiday planning.


Related story: Types of Healthcare Clinics: How Can They Help


8. Prefer Indoors

Dr. Vikram quotes, “Not necessarily in the adult population, to put it more accurately, people need to wear enough layers of clothes to prevent themselves from feeling cold in the winter and mending poor lifestyle habits, eating healthy and fresh food at home cooked in good oil, timely medication with optimal activity can help. However, in the elderly population, it is advised to come out in the daytime and avoid early morning and late evening outings as the temperature gets extremely low and may have negative impacts.” If you are a heart patient, one way to protect your heart during the winter months is to stay indoors as much as possible. The cold temperatures can put extra strain on the heart, increasing the risk of heart attacks and other cardiac issues. By staying indoors and avoiding exposure to cold weather, you can reduce your risk of heart problems.


9. Stay Connected

As the cold winter months approach and we spend more time indoors, it's crucial that we maintain social connections with loved ones. The isolation many of us experienced during the Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of human interaction for our overall well-being. Additionally, as winter can be especially challenging for vulnerable individuals, it's important to keep an eye out for those in our communities who may need extra support.

This can include assistance with shopping for necessities or helping to keep their living spaces warm and comfortable. Additionally, it's important to be aware that Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) can affect anyone, and may be triggered by the change in seasons. Checking in with friends and family, and asking about their mood, sleep, energy, appetite, and motivation can help us gauge how they are coping and provide them with the support they need.


10. Practise Good Habits

“Smoking and excessive drinking can increase the risk of heart disease. To protect your heart during the winter, it is important to avoid smoking and limit your alcohol consumption. If you are a smoker, quitting is the best thing you can do for your heart health.

If you are unable to quit, try to reduce the number of cigarettes you smoke each day. If you drink alcohol, it is important to do so in moderation. It is recommended that men should consume no more than two alcoholic drinks per day, and women should have no more than one, to maintain a healthy lifestyle and reduce the risk of alcohol-related health problems. Additionally, it’s recommended to have at least 2 alcohol-free days per week”, advises Dr. Vikram.


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The above article is medically reviewed by Dr. Vikram Kolhari, Consultant Cardiologist, Apollo hospital, Bengaluru.











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