During winter, it’s important to know the effects of cold weather on your body, and the risks for your heart health. Elderly people are especially vulnerable in winter months, particularly if the cold causes a drop in their body temperature (hypothermia).
Cold weather makes your heart work harder to keep your body warm, so your heart rate and blood pressure may increase. These changes can cause heart problems, especially if you already have a heart condition.
The cold can also cause changes to your blood that may increase the risk of developing blood clots, which could lead to a heart attack or stroke. The effects of cold weather could lead to serious illness or even death, so it is very important to stay warm during the winter.
How can I protect myself against the cold?
There are many things you can do to stay warm, and keep your health safe from the cold weather:
- Keeping your home warm and staying indoors. Keep the temperature at least 18°C (65°F) and use a hot water bottle or an electric blanket to keep warm in bed.
- Staying active indoors to help keep you warm. Move around at least once an hour and avoid sitting still for long periods.
- Having regular hot meals and drinks to give your body the energy it needs to keep you warm.
- Wrapping up warm in layers of clothing. Wearing a few thin layers can help keep you warmer than one thick layer. A lot of heat is lost from your head, so wear a hat and scarf when going outside.
- Learning how to make your home more energy efficient and making sure you’re receiving any financial help that you’re entitled to by contacting the Winter Fuel Payment Centre on 03459 15 15 15.
- If you feel like you’re coming down with a cough or a cold, don’t wait for it to get worse. Get advice from your GP or pharmacist.
The NHS also has tips on how to keep healthy during cold weather, as part of its Stay Well This Winter campaign.
Can the flu affect my heart?
Protect yourself by wrapping up warm, and consider having a flu vaccine.
During cold weather, the chance of catching the flu (seasonal influenza) increases. The flu can be more serious for people with heart conditions, as it makes your heart work much harder. We have advice on how to avoid catching the flu, the flu’s symptoms, and how it can affect any medication you might be taking.
If you have a heart condition, we recommend you talk to your GP or practice nurse about having a flu vaccine. It’s free if you’re aged 65 or over, or if you have a long-term health condition such as a heart problem.
If you’re aged 65 or over, you’re also eligible for the pneumococcal vaccine. This helps to protect you from pneumonia, which you’re more likely to develop in the winter.
As well as protecting your own health, always remember to keep an eye on elderly and vulnerable friends, family and neighbours during cold snaps. Make sure that you can recognise the symptoms and signs of a heart attack and phone 999 for an ambulance immediately if you’re worried.