Back to Top Skip to main content Skip to sub-navigation

Ask the Doc: Trying to Be Heart Smart

Image of Snow covers the trees around J. Edward Roush Lake, Huntington, Ind. Snow covers the trees around J. Edward Roush Lake, Huntington, Ind.

Recommended Content:

Winter Safety | Heart Health | Ask The Doc

Dear Doc: I can’t speak for everyone, but I know where I live, we’ve still got a month or so of extreme cold weather left. Following the advice from your last column, I’m pushing through with my outdoor workouts. While I am staying warm, I’ve noticed that I get tired quicker than I would when it’s warm outside. I’ve also heard that your heart must work harder when you’re working out outside during the winter. How can I make sure I’m not risking my heart health to keep up my routine?

–-Trying to be Heart Smart

Illustration of a female face with the words "Ask the Doc"

 

Dear Heart Smart: You’re exactly right! Cold weather can cause blood vessels and arteries to constrict, making the heart work harder to pump blood. If you’re experiencing chest pain, it may even be angina and you should seek medical attention, especially if it spreads to your shoulders, arms, or neck. Many people don’t realize that even things like shoveling snow should be approached with caution at this time of year.

It’s very easy to forget to listen to your body when all you can think about is how darn cold it is. I talked to Navy Lt. Victoria Selkirk, a board-certified sports dietician with expertise in how the body reacts to different stressors. She just got first-hand experience on how cold weather affects the heart after enduring winter training at the Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center near Bridgeport, California.

Selkirk explained that, although she’s not a cardiologist, her experience with heart health stems from counseling people on cardiovascular nutrition, especially those experiencing congestive heart failure or cholesterol issues.


The main thing that you want to think about when you’re working out or working in cold weather, and the way that it impacts your cardiovascular system, is that blood vessels, like everything else, constrict when you’re out in the cold, essentially because the heart is concentrating on pumping the blood to your brain and all your organs. That can be problematic.

Cold also increases the risk of developing blood clots, especially if that’s something an individual is prone to or if they’re taking any type of anticoagulant medication. That’s something they need to think about and talk with their physician about to make sure they’re not unduly exposing themselves to cold temperatures for a prolonged period. Blood clots can lead to heart attacks or strokes. If the blood vessels are constricted/smaller, it’s easier for the blood to clot. That’s a recipe for disaster for a cardiovascular event.

Those are the main things we think about, systemically, when we’re talking about cold weather and the heart. It’s a matter of knowing if you have any pre-existing conditions, but also paying attention to the signals your body may be giving you that something may be off.

Even if you’re in good shape, a sudden temperature change is going to be a shock to your body, so it’s always a good idea to give your body time to adjust gradually, both when going out into the cold and when coming back inside afterwards.

Social Media Graphic on Winter Safety with Service Member shoveling snow.  Winter Safety: Whether shoveling the walk, or building a shelter during winter training exercises, proper gear prevents injury in extreme weather, and lessens the risk of angina, or chest pain, during strenuous cold weather activity

When you’re exposed to a cold-weather environment, you’re focusing on the cold, so you’re somewhat distracted and maybe only focused on how uncomfortable you are. While you’re thinking about how cold your toes are or how your back may hurt from shoveling, for instance, you also need to pay attention to other signs like pain in your chest, arms or face, dizziness, or sweating.

All of this applies to any strenuous activity you may be doing outside in the cold: exercising, working, or training, AND any work you may be doing outside at home where you may be exerting yourself. Make sure to pay attention to hunger, thirst, and how you feel physically and mentally.


Heart Smart, I hope this helps! The bottom line is that you need to pay attention to the signals that your body is sending you, especially if you have a known history or pre-existing heart condition. February is, in fact, American Heart Month, but I encourage you to take the necessary steps to keep your heart healthy all year long.

Stay warm and, as always…take care out there!

–Doc

You also may be interested in...

Ask the Doc: Working out in a Winter Wonderland

Article
1/20/2021
A Soldier assigned to 10th Combat Aviation Brigade spends part of his lunch break getting a quick workout on the ice. So far, 2021 has seen the type of North Country winter weather that is making the Fort Drum ice rink a hot spot for outdoor recreation. Since the rink opened on Jan. 25, it has seen more activity in the first 10 days than all of last season with nearly 800 skaters in attendance. (Photo by Mike Strasser, Fort Drum Garrison Public Affairs)

Dear Doc: Although my gym has opened back up, I’m still a little hesitant to return because of the recent spikes in COVID cases in my area. I’ve been getting creative with my home workouts, and I’d really like to be outside more, but it’s so cold! I want to bundle up, but I don’t want to overdo it and get overheated. Do you have any recommendations for dressing for outdoor workouts in the winter? –Working Out in a Winter Wonderland

Recommended Content:

Physical Fitness | Winter Safety | Ask The Doc

5 Ideas for Nature Bathing in Winter

Article
1/4/2021
The number 5 against a forest backdrop, with the text "Here are 5 ideas for Nature Bathing in Winter"

Nature bathing? It’s a thing and comes with numerous benefits. It’s simply spending time outdoors and immersing yourself in nature. But, how does one enjoy nature bathing with Jack Frost nipping at your nose?

Recommended Content:

Environmental Fitness | Winter Safety

Head Check: Know Your Helmet, Winter Sports

Fact Sheet
8/6/2020

A Head for the Future aims to raise awareness about TBI among service members, veterans and their families. This fact sheet provides tips for choosing the right helmet for the right sport, with information about different safety features in helmets for skiing, snowboarding and snowmobiling.

Recommended Content:

A Head for the Future | Traumatic Brain Injury Center of Excellence | TBI Educators | Patient and Family Resources | Traumatic Brain Injury | Brain Injury Awareness To Improve Readiness | Winter Safety

2018 #ColdReadiness Twitter chat recap: Preventing cold weather injuries for service members and their families

Fact Sheet
2/5/2018

To help protect U.S. armed forces, the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch (AFHSB) hosted a live #ColdReadiness Twitter chat on Wednesday, January 24th, 12-1:30 pm EST to discuss what service members and their families need to know about winter safety and preventing cold weather injuries as the temperatures drop. This fact sheet documents highlights from the Twitter chat.

Recommended Content:

Medical Surveillance Monthly Report | Winter Safety | Medical and Dental Preventive Care Fitness | Health Readiness

2016 – 2017 Cold Season, Cold Weather Injuries, Active and Reserve Components, U.S. Armed Forces

Infographic
1/18/2018
2016 – 2017 Cold Season, Cold Weather Injuries, Active and Reserve Components, U.S. Armed Forces

This infographic documents cold weather injuries among the active and reserve components of the U.S. Armed Forces for the 2016 – 2017 cold season.

Recommended Content:

Winter Safety | Health Readiness

Five cold seasons: July 2012-June 2017, Active reserve component service members who were diagnosed with a cold weather injury

Infographic
1/18/2018
Five cold seasons: July 2012-June 2017, Active reserve component service members who were diagnosed with a cold weather injury

This infographic provides information on active and reserve component service members who were affected by any cold weather injury during the July 2012 – June 2017 cold seasons.

Recommended Content:

Winter Safety | Armed Forces Health Surveillance Division | Health Readiness

Update: Cold Weather Injuries, Active and reserve components, U.S. Armed Forces, July 2012 – June 2017

Infographic
1/18/2018
Update: Cold Weather Injuries, Active and reserve components, U.S. Armed Forces, July 2012 – June 2017

This infographic provides an update for cold weather injuries among active and reserve components, U.S. Armed Forces, July 2012 – June 2017.

Recommended Content:

Winter Safety | Armed Forces Health Surveillance Division | Health Readiness

Percentages of each Service’s cold weather injuries, 2016 – 2017 cold season

Infographic
1/18/2018
Percentages of each Service’s cold weather injuries, 2016 – 2017 cold season

This infographic documents the percentages of each service’s cold weather injuries, U.S. Armed Forces for the 2016 – 2017 cold season.

Recommended Content:

Winter Safety | Health Readiness

Cold weather injuries by military location, U.S. Armed Forces, July 2012 – June 2017

Infographic
1/18/2018
Cold weather injuries by military location, U.S. Armed Forces, July 2012 – June 2017

This infographic documents cold weather injuries by military location among U.S. Armed Forces for the July 2012 – June 2017 cold seasons.

Recommended Content:

Winter Safety | Health Readiness

Incidence rates of cold weather injuries: Non-Hispanic black service members, five cold weather seasons, July 2012 – June 2017

Infographic
1/18/2018
Incidence rates of cold weather injuries: Non-Hispanic black service members, five cold weather seasons, July 2012 – June 2017

This infographic documents incidence rates of cold weather injuries among non-Hispanic black service members during the July 2012 – June 2017 cold weather seasons.

Recommended Content:

Winter Safety | Health Readiness

Five cold seasons: July 2012 – June 2017, Cold injuries during deployments

Infographic
11/3/2017
Five cold seasons: July 2012 – June 2017, Cold injuries during deployments

This infographic documents cold injuries during deployments outside of the United States for the July 2012 – June 2017 cold seasons (five-year surveillance period).

Recommended Content:

Armed Forces Health Surveillance Division | Winter Safety

Absolute and Relative Morbidity Burdens Attributable to Various Illnesses and Injuries, Active Component, U.S. Armed Forces, 2016

Infographic
6/19/2017
Absolute and Relative Morbidity Burdens Attributable to Various Illnesses and Injuries, Active Component, U.S. Armed Forces, 2016

This infographic documents healthcare burdens attributable to cardiovascular diseases among active component, U.S. Armed Forces in 2016.

Recommended Content:

Medical and Dental Preventive Care Fitness | Men's Health | Heart Health

Facts on Cold Injuries

Infographic
1/9/2017
Facts on Cold Injuries

This infographic provides information on the overall incidence rates of cold injuries among U.S. service members during a July 2011-2016 five-year surveillance period.

Recommended Content:

Winter Safety

Human Physiologic Responses to Cold Exposure

Infographic
1/9/2017
Human Physiologic Responses to Cold Exposure

Human Physiologic responses to cold exposure preserve core body temperature, but those responses may not be sufficient to prevent hypothermia if heat loss is prolonged. This infographic offers helpful information on preserving core body temperature to counter the threat from cold environments.

Recommended Content:

Winter Safety | Armed Forces Health Surveillance Division

Heart Disease and Its Effects on Service Members

Infographic
6/8/2016
Heart Disease and Its Effects on Service Members

Cardiovascular disease comprises disorders of the heart and circulatory system including coronary heart disease and cerebrovascular disease. This infographic provides data on the risk factors for cardiovascular disease among military members base on diagnostic codes in the electronic health records of service members during a 10-year surveillance period.

Recommended Content:

Men's Health | Heart Health
<< < 1 2 3 > >> 
Showing results 31 - 45 Page 3 of 3
Refine your search
Last Updated: August 16, 2021

DHA Address: 7700 Arlington Boulevard | Suite 5101 | Falls Church, VA | 22042-5101

Some documents are presented in Portable Document Format (PDF). A PDF reader is required for viewing. Download a PDF Reader or learn more about PDFs.