Heart Research UK

During the winter months the risk of having a heart attack or stroke increases. It is important to know what the risks are and to put measures in place to ensure you and your family stay safe. A drop in environmental temperature reduces your body temperature. This means the heart must work harder to keep you warm which increases your heart rate. In addition, in cold weather, blood vessels contract to minimise heat loss, which increases blood pressure. While this is a natural process, it can be a cause for concern in those who are more vulnerable. For example adults over 65, those with long-term health conditions and those who are overweight and live less healthy lifestyles.

With the cost of living increasing and energy prices inflated in comparison to previous years, relying on your heating to keep toasty and warm this winter might not be an option for everyone. It is important to keep warm both inside and outside of your home. And do what you can to support your heart health over winter. Here we outline some practical and cost-effective ways to protect your heart and stay warm.

Staying warm indoors

Reduce the impact of the cold weather by keeping your house heated to a minimum of 18°C. Use your thermostat to ensure the inside temperature doesn’t drop below this. Make yourself regular hot meals and drinks. You could set an alarm for every hour to remind you to get up and make a cuppa. Warming winter soups and stews are a great idea in the winter. Opt for these rather than something cold like a sandwich. Try some at home exercises to warm your core body temperature. Or consider a seated pedal exerciser to keep your legs moving, which will help keep you warm while seated. You could buddy up with another household to reduce your heating bills. Have a day at your house and then the next day go to theirs – you could even share the cooking!

Staying warm outdoors

On really cold days, it is better to stay indoors if you fall into the vulnerable categories. On milder winter days make sure you use layers to keep warm when outside and don’t forget your hat, gloves and scarf. It is better to be overdressed and have to remove layers than find yourself cold when far from home. Plan respite stops when out and about. Nip into a friend’s house for a hot drink or make use of low-cost offers from supermarkets and cafes for vulnerable age groups. For example, Asda have announced they are offering soup, bread and unlimited hot drinks to over 60’s throughout November and December this year. Have a look at local options like this near you. If you opt for outdoor walks to remain active, keep these up through winter when the weather allows (wrapping up for the occasion) as we know regular exercise keeps our heart healthy.

Nourish your heart from the inside

Reduce your risk of heart disease by eating a healthy diet. During the winter months it can be tempting to reach for less healthy, comfort foods, but making sure we continue to eat well can protect our heart. Prioritise eating lots of fibre rich foods such as fruits, vegetables, oats and wholegrain foods like brown rice and pasta. Choose lean meats and fish, including one portion of oily fish per week (such as salmon, mackerel, sardines and trout). Avoid consuming too much saturated fat by opting for low-fat dairy products and cooking with heart-healthy olive oil. Be mindful of how much alcohol you are consuming and look at stopping smoking if this is relevant, as both are risk factors for cardiovascular illness.

Being aware of the risk factors for heart health during the colder months is key for keeping yourself and your family safe. Be sure to check in on vulnerable relatives or neighbours as it is harder for elderly people to regulate their own body temperature. If you have some to spare, you could consider dropping off a warming meal to a vulnerable person or inviting them round for a meal. For more tips on how to stay healthy, use www.heartresearch.org.uk/health-tips