Exercising in cold weather – how to stay well this winter

As the evenings get darker, the temperature drops and we start thinking about yes, you’ve guessed it, Christmas! It’s important to recognise how cold weather can affect our heart and how we can keep our heart healthy this winter.

As the evenings get darker, the temperature drops and we start thinking about yes, you’ve guessed it, Christmas! It’s important to recognise how cold weather can affect our heart when we exercise and how we can keep our heart healthy this winter. Older people, especially those living with coronary heart disease and other health conditions can be especially vulnerable to experiencing health related symptoms and hypothermia (a significant drop in body temperature).

So what happens to our heart in cold weather?

  • Our body’s blood vessels constrict, meaning our heart rate and blood pressure goes up
    therefore, our heart has to work much harder to keep our body warm
  • Changes can occur in our blood making us more susceptible to blood clots. This can increase our risk of a heart attack and stroke.

To protect your health and wellbeing in cold weather:

  • Wrap up warm with plenty of layers including a warm coat; consider wearing a scarf, a hat (we lose a considerable amount of heat from our heads) and gloves. In particular Individuals who take medication such as beta-blockers (e.g. Atenolol, Bisoprolol) may be especially susceptible to feeling the cold more, particularly in the extremities (hands and feet).
  • Wear a scarf around your mouth and nose, this can help warm the air as it enters your airways, limiting any shortness of breath whilst out in the cold weather
  • Ensure that any physical activity (e.g. gardening) or exercise (e.g. going for a planned purposeful walk) begins at a slow easy intensity i.e. if going for a purposeful walk make sure you start out at an easy pace/intensity for at least the first 15 minutes. This will allow adequate time for your heart’s blood vessels (coronary arteries) to open up. It can also reduce the likelihood of you experiencing early breathlessness, fatigue, abnormal heart rhythms or anginal symptoms.
  • Avoid sudden strenuous exercise, such as digging or shovelling snow in cold weather.
    If it is particularly cold, try to keep active indoors and keep moving at least once every hour, avoid sitting for prolonged periods. Maybe try and get moving during every advert break when watching TV!
  • Try to keep your home warm by keeping the temperature to at least 18oC (65oF). Have a thick duvet on your bed and consider using a hot water bottle to keep warm in bed if needed.
  • Have regular hot meals and drinks to keep you warm and provide you with the energy you need.

Finally, if you feel that you may be coming down with a cold or flu please make sure you do two things. Firstly, take things easy, reduce the intensity or hold off on any significant physical activity or exercise. Consider taking advice from your GP or pharmacist. If you have a heart condition we recommend you speak to your GP or practice nurse about having the flu vaccine. The flu is more serious for people with heart conditions as it can make the heart work a lot harder. If you are aged 65 or older or you have a long-term condition such as a heart problem the flu vaccine is free.

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