How to Protect Your Heart This Winter?

The low temperature leads to tightening or constriction of blood vessels. This reduces blood supply to the heart, which can aggravate angina and blocks of arteries — leading to heart attacks.
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Winter is here and the senior citizens are in particular worried about these months, typically, from December to March every year.

It is well known that during these months there is an increase in the chances of getting heart ailments especially heart attacks, strokes and worsening of existing problems like high blood pressure and heart failure.

During these months the chance of getting a heart attack approximately doubles. This is especially true for people who have one or more risk factors — high blood pressure, diabetes, tobacco use, obesity, high blood cholesterol levels etc. Elderly people frequently have these problems and are at a high risk of getting serious problems.

It is therefore important to recognize these facts and be careful and use preventive strategies during this period.

Why winter predisposes to heart ailments:

  The low temperature leads to tightening or constriction of blood vessels. This reduces blood supply to the heart, which can aggravate angina and blocks of arteries — leading to heart attacks. This also leads to blood pressure going up and patients on BP medicines often need an increase in the dose or addition of a new medicine.

◊   The oxygen demand of the heart increases because the heart has to work harder to keep the body warm.

◊   The early morning surge in blood pressure is an important reason for heart attacks being more common at that time. In winter, because of fewer daylight hours, people often have a tendency to finish outdoor work earlier in the day. The combination of cold temperature and hard work leads to a higher blood pressure.

◊   The shift of activities to morning hours also leads to a change in the circadian rhythm (body clock), leading to an increase in heart rate, blood pressure and cortisol levels. The combination reduces the threshold levels of events like heart attack and brain stroke.

Preventive Strategies:

Exercise done regularly is one of the most important measures to keep your heart healthy. Start exercising slowly and not suddenly. If going for a more strenuous exercise, do it for short periods like 10 to 15 minutes at a time. Let the body recuperate in between. Never overdo especially if you are not a regular exercise person.

To regulate your exercise, a scientific way is to have an app in your mobile phone which counts the steps. Approximately 8,000 steps per day at least 5 times a week should be the goal. Do not smoke or have tea and coffee in between the spells of exercise.Caffeine and nicotine lead to increase in heart rate and blood pressure which burdens the heart. Do not eat a heavy meal just before or after exercise. Outdoor exercise should be done after wearing warm attire and not in freezing cold.

Keep warm

Keeping yourself warm is again very useful. Multiple layers of clothes are important. Each layer traps air, forming a protective insulation. Our traditional phiran is a good way of protection with a few layers of warm clothes underneath. Also, wear a cap or a head scarf. Heat can be lost through your head. Ears are especially prone to frostbite. Keep your hands and feet warm, too, as they tend to lose heat rapidly. Use gloves and warm socks.

Diet:

Watch your weight in winter

Winter months are known for an increase in hunger because the body needs more energy to keep warm in face of low ambient temperature.Body has to work harder to generate this heat. Eating more unrestricted items invariably leads to increase in weight. It is advisable to reduce fat intake. Delicacies like Harissa should be taken sparingly not more than 2 times a month.The Chinese believe that in winter we should focus on foods that build up our energy. According to them these foods are:  cabbage, carrots,peas, chestnuts and spices. Eastern and western nutritional experts alike usually believe there is certainly a place for warming herbs and seasoning during the winter months. These include ginger, cinnamon, cloves, mustard and pepper.

Fruits,vegetables,walnuts and almonds are recommended. Four to five servings of fruits and vegetables are recommended every day. Amount of carbohydrates should be minimized. Rice and Roti, our customary food base, should be consumed in small amounts. Lean meat, chicken, fish, eggs and paneer are good sources of protein and have low content of saturated fat and are good. In fact, cooking mutton with low fat content along with vegetables in the form of a curry or a stew is a good choice and also goes with our mutton consuming habits.

Be Aware of the Risk Factors:

Smoking, High Blood pressure, Diabetes, overweight and high blood cholesterol and triglycerides.

The smokers invariably increase the number of cigarettes smoked or the time spent smoking Hookah. At the onset of winter, it is advisable to see your physician especially those with pre-existent problems like high BP, diabetes, heart disease, previous angioplasty or bypass surgery. Very often the dosages of drugs need a modification.Patients with high BP and diabetes need to monitor BP and blood sugar levels carefully and not to allow the levels to cross the recommended guidelines. Ensure that you have been vaccinated against influenza every year and pneumonia periodically as recommended by your doctor.

Take Home Message:

Senior citizen should take extra care during the winter months because chances of heart problems have a tendency to increase. They frequently have associated problems like High B P and Diabetes. A medical checkup in early winters to ensure good health is important. They should keep themselves warm, exercise regularly, consume diet rich in fruits, vegetables, gentle spices and high in proteins but low in fats. Taking medicines regularly and keeping a watch on BP and Sugar levels is important. Ensure that they have been vaccinated against influenza and pneumonia.

Prof  U Kaul, Founder Director Gauri Kaul Foundation. Recipient of Padma Shri and Dr B C Roy Award

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