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American Heart Association: Tips for staying warm and safe in cold weather

American Heart AssociationNashville, TN – The seasonal chill in Tennessee has finally fallen upon us! It’s a wonderful time of year – but we all need to play it safe. For those of us going to late season Titans or college games, hitting up the honky tonks downtown or spending any time outdoors, the American Heart Association wants to remind you that cold weather can affect your heart. 

Here is what to know during this cold season:

How does cold weather affect the heart?

Dunbar Cave in the snowMany people – especially in the warmer South – aren’t conditioned to the physical stress of outdoor cold-weather activities and don’t know the dangers. Those who don’t take precautions can suffer hypothermia.

Hypothermia occurs when the body temperature has fallen below 95 degrees Fahrenheit, and your body can’t produce enough energy to keep the internal body temperature warm enough. Hypothermia can kill you, and heart failure causes most deaths in hypothermia. Symptoms include lack of coordination, mental confusion, slowed reactions, shivering and sleepiness.
Besides cold temperatures, high winds, snow and rain also can steal body heat. Wind is especially dangerous, because it removes the layer of heated air from around your body.  At 30 degrees Fahrenheit in a 30-mile wind, the cooling effect is equal to 15 degrees Fahrenheit. Similarly, dampness causes the body to lose heat faster than it would at the same temperature in drier conditions.

Who’s at high risk?

Snow ManChildren, the elderly and those with heart disease are at special risk. As people age, their ability to maintain a normal internal body temperature often decreases. Because elderly people seem to be relatively insensitive to moderately cold conditions, they can suffer hypothermia without knowing they’re in danger.
People with coronary heart disease often suffer angina pectoris (chest pain or discomfort) when they’re in cold weather. Some studies suggest that harsh winter weather may increase a person’s risk of heart attack due to overexertion.

What should we do to keep warm and safe?

To keep warm, wear layers of clothing. This traps air between layers, forming a protective insulation. Also, wear a hat or head scarf. Heat can be lost through your head. And ears are especially prone to frostbite. Keep your hands and feet warm, too, as they tend to lose heat rapidly.
Don’t drink alcoholic beverages before going outdoors or when outside. Alcohol gives an initial feeling of warmth, because blood vessels in the skin expand.  Heat is then drawn away from the body’s vital organs.
People who are outdoors in cold weather should avoid sudden exertion, like lifting a heavy shovel full of snow. Even walking through heavy, wet snow or snow drifts can strain a person’s heart.
Enjoy the cool weather and stay safe!
For more information on how to keep healthy all year round and find out your heart health score, visit www.mylifecheck.org and take the quiz.


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