By Dr Niamh O’Kennedy*, honorary research scientist at the University of Aberdeen
With winter finally here, what many don’t know is that the cold impacts how blood flows around the body, which can increase the risk of a heart attack. The Christmas season brings over-eating and drinking, and when combined with our sedentary lifestyles, takes its toll on our health. Whilst active individuals are capable of adapting to these changes, many with underlying health conditions and those over 40 are more vulnerable.
So what can we all do to remain fighting fit this winter? Well the old adage still remains true. Wrap up, get out and get moving!
Research has shown that each 1.8°F / 1°C reduction in temperature on a single day is associated with around 200 additional heart attacks.
Why is this? The answer isn’t due to the cold itself. It’s the sudden changes in temperature that cause the body to work harder to maintain its constant temperature. This has a direct effect on the blood, making it thicker, more sticky and more likely to clot. Meanwhile, blood vessels actually constrict to help conserve body heat, which not only raises blood pressure but also creates a narrower space for this sticky blood to circulate in. This can be a disaster as in this limited space the number of platelets (tiny cells in your blood) also increases by millions and the cold turns them hyperactive – meaning they’re more likely to stick together or clot.
On top of all this, when it gets so cold that you’re actually shivering, your blood starts being shunted from the skin to internal organs. It literally leaves your veins and nips over to your organs to keep them warm – like cavity wall insulation or a bird fluffing up its feathers. This process causes up to 1 litre of blood to shunt towards central organs, overloading them with volume.
So it’s important to keep yourself warm so your body doesn’t have to do all the hard work. Wrap up in layers of clothing. Wearing a few thin layers can help keep you warmer than one thick jumper. A lot of heat is lost from your head, so get that hat and scarf out from the back of your closet.
Keep your home cosy too. Keep the temperature at least 18°C (65°F) and use a hot water bottle to stay warm in bed. And stay active indoors. Move around at least once an hour and avoid sitting still for long periods.
Having regular hot meals and drinks will also give your body the energy it needs to keep you warm and healthy. But remember to try to keep your caffeine intake within acceptable limits.
It may feel too cold to get that gym gear on but moderate exercise is vital. Even just a brisk daily walk can make all the difference.
A new study out recently by Binghamton University, State University of New York, found that moderately intensive walking for just over 20 minutes a day helps reduce cardiovascular risk factors in the short term.
But don’t overdo it. During a cold snap, letting your body adjust to the lower temperatures without causing too much strain on the heart is recommended, so moderate and frequent exercise is what you need. Or you could always try a night time work out if you want to keep warm in bed this winter and share heat.
No, not that mulled wine or glass of bubbly at the office or Christmas party. Try to keep your water intake up, even though you may feel less thirsty.
In cold weather the body’s thirst response is diminished, urine production increases and whilst you may think you’re sweating less – all those warm and heavy clothes are making you sweat just as much but it evaporates quicker.
Another factor contributing to possible dehydration is increased respiratory fluid loss. So when you can see your own breath, that’s actually water vapor that your body is losing. The colder the temperature and the more intense the exercise, the more vapor you lose when you breathe. So keep hydrated!
Why not give your body the helping hand it needs? Check out a new supplement made from Fruitflow®, a 100% natural and safe ingredient derived from tomatoes (nothing to do with lycopene), combined with the purest Omega-3 fish oil, that has recently been heralded as the new natural alternative to the drug aspirin for healthy adults who wish to keep their blood circulating smoothly, and so maintain heart health.
It’s an easy, natural and clinically proven way to help maintain normal blood flow and normal, healthy heart function – without medication or side-effects – for healthy adults. Used in primary prevention Fruitflow® has been proven as effective as a single dose of aspirin (75mg) without the associated risks and its action is reversible (unlike aspirin). It’s even got a credible authorised health claim that it: ‘Helps maintain normal platelet aggregation, which contributes to healthy blood flow’. It’s available at fruitflowplus.com.
It’s no surprise that Brits like to talk about the weather so this winter let’s raise awareness of these chilling facts and help ward off cardiovascular disease.