Winter weather is here and with it comes a whole new set of health hazards that we need to know about and protect against. Some threats are obvious such as the heart attacks triggered by shoveling snow–while others are just as dangerous, but more subtle. And the threats are from not just falling snow, but also falling temperatures.
Here are some hidden dangers you should know about:
Heart Attack and Stroke
- Many winter heart attacks aren’t from the sudden exertion of shoveling snow. While the number of heart attacks does spike in the winter–estimates suggest there are 53 percent more now than in the summer. That’s true all across the country, including in some Sunbelt states that never see a snowflake. It’s winter’s cold, not just snow, that poses the threat. Our arteries respond to cold by constricting, and that makes us more prone to heart attacks.
Small Temperature Drops Cause Big Problems
- The latest evidence comes from researchers who found that falling temperatures of less than 2 degrees Fahrenheit in a single day resulted in a 2 percent rise in the number of heart attacks that occurred during the next two weeks. Moreover, as we age, the cold hits us harder–especially when the thermometer drops to 32 degrees or below. Constricting arteries also can trigger tears or splits in the plaque that lines the walls of the arteries. When that happens, blood clots can form, triggering a heart attack or stroke, both of which occur more frequently during winter.
High Blood Pressure
- This cold-weather constriction of the arteries increases blood pressure. Because there’s less space for blood to flow, there’s more resistance inside blood vessels.
Vitamin D Deficiency
- Getting too little vitamin D during winter’s gray days can be dangerous. Less sunlight means you tend to get less vitamin D because it’s primarily absorbed through the skin. Low levels of D have been linked to an increased risk of osteoporosis, heart attacks, dementia, heart disease and Parkinson’s disease. Several studies also have shown that people with low vitamin D levels were twice as likely to have a heart attack or stroke, compared with those with higher levels. About 15 minutes of sun on arms each day is often enough to maintain the levels you need.