For me, exercise is an important part of keeping healthy. I prefer to exercise in the morning, before getting caught up in the day’s activities. In the summer, I’m up at the crack of dawn to get to the YMCA for a swim or head out for a walk. In the winter, I can’t bear the thought of getting out of my warm bed to head out into the dark and cold for even a coffee, much less a swim or walk. Come winter, I commit to swimming in the early afternoon and schedule it like anything else. I love to walk our dog, Kovu, but in winter this becomes challenging. I need to make sure I am dressed warmly and have appropriate footwear on my feet. Heart attacks are more frequent in winter because the extreme temperature increases blood pressure, putting additional strain on the heart. The human heart also has to pump more blood in order to maintain body heat when it is cold. Individuals with high blood pressure, heart disease or heart conditions need to remain cautious of how much time they spend in the extreme cold.1 Because extreme cold weather can also cause airways to tighten, breathing in the cold air can be an issue. I often need to shorten my walks or schedule it for the warmest part of the day (unlike summer when earlier was better!). Ice is the one thing that will keep me inside—the last thing I want to do is fall. I’ve discovered that Netflix and YouTube have a variety of workouts available, including aerobics, Zumba, strength training, yoga—whatever your interest you are sure to find something to help you stay fit.
The dark days of winter sometimes get me down. I'm sure you're aware of Seasonal Affective Disorder, but here is why the winter makes some people more depressed. The brain is sensitive to low temperatures, just like the body. If it gets too cold, the brain responds by releasing chemicals that make you miserable.2 The first thing I do in winter is to open up the blinds and let whatever sun is available inside! I’ve strategically placed some bird feeders where I can view them from my favorite chair, and yes, we do have an occasional feathered visitor even in the winter months! Socially, winter can be somewhat isolating. I know I tend to not go out as much in the winter. I’ve found that staying connected to friends maintains my emotional health.
I also have a tendency to fall off the healthy eating wagon in winter. The fresh fruits and vegetables I enjoy are no longer available or are very expensive and I have a tendency to crave comfort food. Heck, baking chocolate chip cookies on snow days is a family tradition! I find I really need to plan my menus and shop accordingly. I’ve found using a grocery store delivery service helps. First, I won’t be tempted to buy unhealthy foods and, should the weather be nasty, I won’t have to drive to get the groceries. I also decided to continue my community supported agriculture subscription into the winter—it still provides fresh and frozen local vegetables and fruits.
Make sure you have an ample supply of your medications. Don’t wait until the last minute to get them refilled. Should there be a major storm, you may not be able to pick them up or the store could be closed. Same goes for when you’re traveling to escape the winter. Make sure you have sufficient amounts of your medications available should you be stranded on your return home for any reason. Storms can wreak havoc on airline travel.
It’s important to have home support lined up as needed. If it is too much for you to shovel or plow, pre-arrange to have your driveway plowed for the season as needed. Should there be an emergency, you need to get out or emergency vehicles need to get in. Keep your car either in a garage or covered so you won’t need to clear snow off of it and make sure you have enough gas.
Most importantly, enjoy winter! One of my most favorite winter activities is just sitting in my recliner with a cup of hot tea just watching the snow fall.
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The opinions expressed by ACHA bloggers and those providing comments on the ACHA Blog are theirs alone, and do not reflect the opinions of the Adult Congenital Heart Association or any employee thereof. ACHA is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the ACHA bloggers.
The contents of this blog are presented for informational purposes only, and should not be substituted for professional advice. Always consult your physicians with your questions and concerns.