Advice on keeping safe in winter

As the winter freeze continues to bring ice and snow to many parts, this is an opportune time to remind people how cold weather can affect the heart, especially for those with cardiovascular disease, say the American Heart Association (AHA).

If you are outdoors in cold weather, you should avoid sudden exertion, like lifting a heavy shovel full of snow, say the AHA, who warn that even walking through snow, especially heavy snow and snow drifts, can strain the heart.

Many people aren’t conditioned to the physical stress of outdoor activities and don’t know the dangers of being outdoors in cold weather. Winter sports enthusiasts who don’t take certain precautions can suffer accidental hypothermia.

Hypothermia occurs when the body temperature falls below 35 degrees Celsius. It occurs when your body can’t produce enough energy to keep the internal body temperature warm enough.

It can and does kill, with heart failure being the most common cause of death in hypothermia. Symptoms include lack of co-ordination, mental confusion, slowed reactions, shivering and sleepiness.

Children, the elderly and those with heart disease are at special risk. As people age, their ability to maintain a normal internal body temperature often decreases and as elderly people seem to be relatively insensitive to moderately cold conditions, they can suffer hypothermia without knowing they’re in danger.

Cold temperatures, high winds, snow and rain also can steal body heat. Wind is especially dangerous, because it removes the layer of heated air from around your body. At -1 degree Celsius in a 30-mile wind, the cooling effect is equal to almost 9.5 degrees Celsius.

Similarly, dampness causes the body to lose heat faster than it would at the same temperature in drier conditions.

The AHA advise that to keep warm, wear layers of clothing. This traps air between layers, forming a protective insulation. Also, wear a hat or head scarf as heat can be lost through your head and keep your hands and feet warm, too, as they also tend to lose heat rapidly.

Don’t drink alcoholic beverages before going outdoors or when outside. Alcohol gives an initial feeling of warmth, because blood vessels in the skin expand. Heat is then drawn away from the body’s vital organs.

Source: American Heart Association
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