Heart Health

Laura Akgerman Disability Services Coordinator for Ohio AgrAbility

Did you know that your risk for a heart attack increases in the winter?  “Cold weather sometimes creates a perfect storm of risk factors for cardiovascular problems,” says Dr. Randall Zusman, Massachusetts General Hospital. Cold weather can cause a decrease in the oxygen rich blood your heart needs. Cold weather conditions can make your heart work harder, then your heart needs more oxygen rich blood, which is already in short supply and this can lead to a heart attack. (Zusman, Harvard Health Publications, 2016).

Taking precautions and staying healthy over the winter can reduce your risk of a winter-induced heart attack. Eating healthy, limiting your alcohol intake, taking all prescribed medications and exercising regularly are all key factors to maintain good health. Not sure how much you need to exercise? 150 minutes a week of moderate to intensive cardio exercise, and two days a week of strengthening/weight training exercise is the current recommendation from Center for Disease Control. If you can’t go outside and exercise, climb the stairs inside your house, walk or jog in place, dance, do something that gets your heart beating faster. Before you begin a new exercise routine, please check with your doctor to ensure your don’t over exert yourself.

Common heart attack risk factors and how to avoid them:

Overexertion – walking against the wind and through deep snow, shoveling snow, pushing a car out of the snow, feeding and watering your animals are all winter activities that cannot be avoided. To reduce your risk of heart attack or other injury consider how you could change the way you work outside.

Use snow removal equipment instead of shoveling snow. If you have to shovel, take it easy! Shovel smaller amounts of snow, take frequent breaks, drink fluids to stay hydrated, and only shovel what you must.

Cold exposure - When you are suddenly exposed to cold temperatures your blood vessels can constrict and reduce blood flow.  Put your coat, hat, gloves and scarf on before you walk outside. (Zusman, 2016)

Overheating -  Wear layers – if you get too hot your blood vessels can dilate, which can dramatically reduce blood pressure. Remove layers gradually when working outside, or go inside to take a break and cool down.

Influenza – The flu can lead to a heart attack in people with heart disease – the combination of fever and dehydration can affect the level of oxygen in your blood, which can lead to a heart attack.

Missing medications – Missing a dose of medicine can have serious consequences. Be sure you have all of your prescription medications, do not wait until the last minute to refill a medication, you may be unable to get to the pharmacy if the weather gets bad.

Stress – Stress impacts your physical and mental health. Manage stress with regular exercise, healthy eating, spending time with friends and family, and getting help for physical and mental health issues.

Heart attack signs and symptoms in men and women

Chest discomfort or pain – tight ache, squeezing, pressure or fullness that lasts more than a few minutes, this pain may come and go.

Upper body pain – pain that spreads beyond your chest to shoulders, arms, back, neck, teeth or jaw. You could have this pain without chest pain.

Stomach pain, nausea and/or vomiting  - pain or heartburn in your abdominal area, nausea and/or vomiting.

Shortness of breath – you may feel like you need to pant or to take deep breaths, this can occur before chest discomfort, or without chest discomfort.

Anxiety – you may feel as if you are having a panic attack, or feel a deep sense of gloom for no apparent reason.

Lightheadedness – dizziness, or feeling like you are going to faint.

Sweating – cold, clammy sweat when you have not exerted yourself.

(Mayo Clinic, 2017)

Do heart attacks look different in women?

Yes. The Cleveland Clinic lists three subtle heart attack symptoms women are more likely to experience than men:

Unusual fatigue –“heavy” chest or fatigue when you have not exerted yourself. Simple activities make you excessively tired. Difficulty sleeping (even when you are exhausted). If you are suddenly worn out after your typical workout routine.

Sweating or shortness of breath - sudden sweating or shortness of breath without exertion, breathlessness that continues to worsen over time after exertion. Shortness of breath that worsens when lying down, and improves when upright. Sweating or shortness of breath with chest pain or fatigue. “Stress” sweat (cold & clammy) when there is no stressor.

Neck, jaw or back pain – pain in either arm, not just the left arm. Pain in the chest that spreads to the lower or upper back. Sudden pain, not due to exertion, that can wake you at night. Pain that is specific to the left, lower jaw.

Women may notice these symptoms in the weeks or month before a heart attack. If you experience these symptoms, see your doctor. Write a list of your symptoms and when they occur, tell your doctor about any family history of heart disease, and tell your doctor about any stressors you are experiencing.

If you have chest pain or discomfort and any of the symptoms listed above (especially if they last longer than five minutes) get help right away. Call 911, or have someone drive you to the doctor or nearest health care facility or hospital.

More information about heart attacks and heart health can be found at:


For more information please contact Laura Akgerman, Ohio AgrAbility & OSU Extension Disability Services Coordinator, at Akgerman.4@osu.edu, or 614-292-0622.