Heart Health and Safety Tips for Surviving Winter Weather

Nov 21, 2019

Queens, NY

NewYork-Presbyterian Queens

As the temperatures drop in New York City, it’s important to focus on health and safety when braving the cold this season.

“We see significantly more injuries during the winter months due to accidents that are directly related to cold weather like slipping on ice or shoveling,” says Dr. David Slotwiner, chief of the Division of Cardiology at NewYork-Presbyterian Queens and assistant professor of clinical medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine. “People underestimate the caution that must be taken during this time of the year, and we would like to remind those folks how to prepare and handle these situations appropriately.”

Dr. Slotwiner, along with Dr. Jeffrey Rosen, chairman of the Department of Orthopedics and Rehabilitation at NewYork-Presbyterian Queens and an associate professor of clinical orthopaedic surgery at Weill Cornell Medicine, offer the following tips to help local residents stay heart-healthy and avoid injury during the winter months.

Heart Health

1. Go easy on the shoveling. After a snow storm, shovel slowly and take frequent breaks. The act of lifting heavy snow can raise your blood pressure. Try using a small shovel to lighten the load and the strain on your heart. If you have had a heart attack in the past or other heart problems, you should avoid shoveling.

2. Learn the signs of a heart attack. According to the American Heart Association, chest or upper body pain, shortness of breath, cold sweat, nausea/vomiting and back or jaw pain may all be symptoms of a heart attack. When in doubt, call 911 and describe your symptoms.

3. Avoid heavy meals and alcohol before or after shoveling. Eating a large meal can put added burden on your heart. Alcohol can stimulate the feeling of warmth and you may not be able to properly judge if the cold weather is impacting on your body temperature, putting you at risk for hypothermia.

4. Prevent hypothermia. According to the American Heart Association, hypothermia is the leading contributor to death by heart failure. To prevent hypothermia, dress for the cold weather. Wear warm layers of quick-dry synthetic material with special attention to covering your head and chest to trap your body’s heat.

5. Avoid overheating. While it's important to dress warmly in cold weather, it's also important to avoid getting overheated. Too much warm clothing may cause blood vessels to dilate, which can dramatically lower blood pressure, potentially leading to a heart attack. Dress in layers. If you start to sweat, remove a layer until you cool down.

6. Maintain a heart-healthy diet. During the winter, it’s easy to eat loads of heavy food to stay warm. Instead, wear warm layers and remember to control your portion size, eat fruits and vegetables, and select whole grains.

7. Get a flu shot. The flu causes inflammation which can increase your chances of a heart attack. A flu shot is recommended for all ages, but especially for folks 65 and older, those at high risk for the flu, or people who suffer from cardiovascular disease.

8. Fill prescriptions. Snowy or icy weather can keep you from getting prescriptions filled. If you haven't had your medications, and blood pressure is not adequately controlled, it can increase heart attack risk.

Avoid Slips and Trips

9. Stock up on salt. Clear snow and ice from your driveway and the sidewalks around your home or business. Use salt before and after a snow storm to protect yourself and others from slipping.

10. Create and improve traction. Make sure your shoes have optimal traction for walking outside and replace worn cane tips to make walking easier. Take off your shoes as soon as you are indoors to avoid creating wet and slippery conditions.

11. Don’t rush. Take extra time and shorter steps in slippery conditions. Try pointing your toes slightly outward when you walk to maintain your balance. If you become tired, go inside to warm up and take a break.

12. Exercise caution getting in and out of a car. Put both feet on the ground and make sure your footing is stable before you stand up. Ask a friend or family member to help you balance if necessary.

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