We’ve all heard of at least one story of someone having a heart attack from shoveling snow and wondered if winter is indeed hazardous to our health. Well, according to statistics Canada, Environment Canada and the Heart and Stroke foundation “the colder winter months are definitely associated with increased hospitalization and mortality among heart failure patients”. For Canadians this disheartening news makes it all the more tempting to just hibernate in our homes until spring returns.Of course, from the point of view of a naturopathic doctor, hibernation is not the answer. Understanding how and why winter affects us will help prevent illness and disease; so let’s explore the impact of winter on our heart health.
Our bodies are affected by cold. Did you know that cholesterol levels and blood pressure can increase during the winter months compared to the summer months? Combine high cholesterol and blood pressure with cold-induced blood vessel constriction and you’ve got an overall increase of stress on your heart. This can explain why suddenly adding intense cardiovascular activity, such as snow shoveling, can trigger a heart attack.
Our lifestyle and diets change in the winter. Like a bear preparing for hibernation, we humans are generally less active in winter and we gravitate towards high fat, high sugar and high salt “comfort” foods. The cold weather also drives us indoors, so we may be exposed to more sick people – increasing our risk of catching the flu or developing pneumonia. When we are sick our bodies produce more inflammation. The inflammation associated with these illnesses can increase your heart attack risk.
Our bodies miss the sun. Winter mornings and after work are cloaked in darkness. This may have a two-fold effect, the first being we receive less vitamin D. Studies show vitamin D deficiency can contribute towards cardiovascular disease as well as affect type 2 diabetes (compounding your heart disease risk), osteoarthritis (further impeding physical activity) and depression.
The second effect of having less sun exposure is that your brain makes less serotonin. Low serotonin can affect mood, hunger and your general sense of well-being. Low serotonin is also a major factor in developing depression. Winter is a double edged sword for those suffering with depression as the risk of heart disease in these individuals is double.
Adapting to the seasons is important in maintaining good health. A naturopathic doctor can help you plan a healthy diet, plan a winter exercise routine, and adjust your supplementations according to your needs. If you have an existing heart condition (medicated or not), or if you are at high risk for heart disease (i.e. you have diabetes, you are overweight or you are prone to getting sick) then it is extremely important to take extra care in keeping your heart healthy. To make an appointment to see a naturopathic doctor, please call the clinic at 416-929-6958.
Eevon Ling is a licensed naturopathic doctor at The Pacific Wellness Institute. She is available for food allergy testing, nutritional consultations, and naturopathic treatments. Contact The Pacific Wellness Institute at 416-929-6958 for an appointment.