Heart Attack Deaths Spike in Winter

VIDEO: Dr. David Frid says being frightened can have a number of effects on the heart.
ABCNEWS.com

If you're a health news junkie like we are, you know that winter always brings with it an increase in the number of heart-related deaths. But if you're thinking that you've got your ticker's health covered (literally) with warm layers, new research shows that it's not the chilly weather that kills -- meaning your arsenal of earmuffs, scarves, and leggings won't winterize your most vulnerable body part: your heart.

Researchers at Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles analyzed four years' worth of death certificates (that's 1.7 million) in seven locations across the country: LA County in California, Texas, Arizona, Georgia, Washington, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts.

What did they find? The death rate -- due to heart attacks, heart failure, cardiovascular disease, and stroke -- from January to March is up to 36 percent higher in winter than it is in summer, regardless of the area. In other words, people aren't dying from shoveling snow and battling the elements, something most people, including researchers, have always assumed.

Heart-Healthy Weeknight Dinners

So what is to blame? Cold temps might still be a factor, but there's no single reason why winter sees more deaths. "Respiratory infection or influenza is a significant factor," says lead study author Bryan Schwartz, MD, a cardiology fellow at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. He speculates that fewer hours of daylight could contribute too, since light loss is associated with seasonal affective disorder and depression. And of course, diet and exercise are often the first things to corrode once frost settles in.

Cold weather or not, here are five heart-smart ideas to keep your ticker on target this winter.

Ways to Ward Off Winter Heart Risks

Make like a squirrel and gather those nuts! They're packed with monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs), which improve heart health, control blood sugar, and fight dangerous visceral belly fat. While you're at it, add these four more MUFA-filled foods to your stockpile.

Ways to Ward Off Winter Heart Risks

Resist the temptation to hole up at home huddled in a Snuggie waiting for spring—there's all kinds of healthy winter fun to be had, from sledding to indoor bowling. Check out the other wintry ways to burn calories.

Ways to Ward Off Winter Heart Risks

The dawn of fall means it's finally sex season. But fall is just the first lap: winter is the sex marathon. Those biting winter nights, those snowed-in days, that crackling fireplace….you know where this is going. Indulge! Research shows that a healthy sex life can boost your immunity and protect your ticker.

Ways to Ward Off Winter Heart Risks

A happy heart is a healthy heart, but winter tends to bring the blues. How can you stay positive? Lighten up! Go for a stroll outside to catch some sunlight, which can help prevent migraines and ease seasonal depression.

Ways to Ward Off Winter Heart Risks

Instead of stocking up on preservative-riddled foods, do yourself a favor and grab these nine heart-smart superfoods.

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More from Prevention:

7 Signs You're Having A Heart Attack

5 Strange Ways Chocolate Benefits Your Health

17 Reasons To Get Of The Couch

6 Scary Times For Your Heart

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