Alert
Close

Think you know AARP? What you don’t know about us may surprise you. Discover all the ‘Real Possibilities’

HIGHLIGHTS

Open

REAL POSSIBILITIES

AARP Real Possibilities
Car buying made easy with the AARP Auto Buying Program

Download the ipad App

AARP-iPad-ePub-app

DRIVER SAFETY

Piggy bank on the road - AARP Driver Safety

Take the new AARP Smart Driver Course!

Contests and
Sweeps

Safe Driving in 2014 Sweepstakes

Learn how AARP Driver Safety can help you stay safe—and enter for a chance to win $1,000. See official rules. 

KEEP BRAIN ACTIVE!

AARP Games - Play Now!

AARP BOOKS

Planning for Long-Term Care for Dummies

Get expert advice on planning for your own or a relative’s future care needs.

Webinars

Learn From the Experts

Sign up now for an upcoming webinar or find materials from a past session.

Learning centers

Get smart strategies for managing health conditions.

 

Arthritis

Heart Disease

Diabetes

Most Popular

Viewed

share your thoughts

What does the health care law mean to you? Your story is important. We read and learn from every story and it helps us in our educational efforts. We may even use your comments (with permission) to brief legislators, inspire readers and more. Please share your story with us. Do

5 Hidden Winter Health Dangers

How to stay safe when the cold can play havoc with your heart, blood pressure and lungs

En español | Winter weather is here, and with it comes a whole new set of health hazards we need to know about and protect against. Some threats are obvious — the heart attacks triggered by shoveling snow — while others are just as dangerous, but more subtle.

Subscribe to the AARP Health Newsletter

Winter weather health shoveling snow

Winter brings cold weather and a host of potential health dangers. — Getty Images

And the threats are from not just falling snow, but also falling temperatures.

Here are five hidden dangers you should know about:

1. 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 — by some estimates 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. Why? Narrow arteries can cut down the flow of blood through the body, "making your heart work harder," says Roger Blumenthal, M.D., director of the Johns Hopkins Ciccarone Preventive Cardiology Center.

And even small temperature drops can cause big problems.

British researchers 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. That meant about 200 more heart attacks throughout England and Wales per "colder" day, according to a three-year study of temperature records and 84,000 hospital admissions.

Moreover, as we age, the cold hits us harder — especially when the thermometer drops to 32 degrees or below. "The older you get, the harder it is to regulate body temperature," says Ronan Factora, M.D., of the Cleveland Clinic's Center for Geriatric Medicine. "There's less fat and muscle, less ability to generate heat." So compared with those in their 50s, men and women in their 70s or 80s feel the cold more severely.

Constricting arteries, Blumenthal says, 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 also occur more frequently during winter.

2. 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," explains Factora.

3. Vitamin D deficiency

Getting too little vitamin D — the sunshine vitamin — 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. Unfortunately, in some parts of the country, the sun virtually disappears for months. Some older people may need to take vitamin D supplements. Check vitamin D recommendations and talk to your doctor about taking a supplement.

Next: How to fight the winter blues.  »

Topic Alerts

You can get weekly email alerts on the topics below. Just click “Follow.”

Manage Alerts

Processing

Please wait...

progress bar, please wait

Video Extra

Tell Us WhatYou Think

Please leave your comment below.

Discounts & Benefits

From companies that meet the high standards of service and quality set by AARP.

Woman trying on glasses in optometrists shop

Members save up to 60% off eye exams and 30% off eyeglasses at Pearle Vision.

Prescription medication spilling out of bottle

Members get a free Rx card from AARP® Prescription Discounts provided by Catamaran.

AARP/Walgreens Wellness Bus Stops in Clarksdale, MS

Members can get exclusive points offers from Walgreens and Duane Reade.

Caregiving walking

Caregiving can be a lonely journey, but AARP offers resources that can help.