It’s Valentine’s Day – don’t have a cold heart

Cathleen Kronemer, NSCA-CPT, Certified Health Coach, is a longtime fitness instructor at the Jewish Community Center. 

By Cathleen Kronemer

This week, Cupid is busy stashing his little arrows, poised to take aim at couples in love. Whether you consider Feb. 14 a romantic holiday or merely a windfall for candy and flower companies, it seems that everywhere we turn, we see hearts: red paper or foil covered hearts, heart-shaped pizzas, heart-shaped diamond pendants…the list is endless. While it is fun to embrace this iconic symbol of hopeless romanticism, it may also be prudent to take a different perspective of the heart as the winter continues.

February does not only herald the coming of Valentine’s Day, but also much of the season’s snow and frigid temperatures. As the mercury plummets, our body’s blood vessels constrict. Blood itself also becomes thicker and more viscous. These two factors combine to increase the likelihood of reduced blood flow to the heart, which in turn may lead to a rise in blood pressure. These collective changes are often enough to trigger a heart attack in deconditioned individuals.

British researchers estimate that for every 1 degree Celsius (or 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) the outside temperature drops, 200 more heart attacks occur each day among men and women in the two to four weeks following the fluctuation.

Another often overlooked consideration in these single-digit temperatures is the fact that very cold weather tends to bring with it extremely dry air. This can prove to be much more irritating to the heart and lungs, especially if asthma is an issue.

Extended periods of exposure to low temperatures can lead to hypothermia fairly quickly if the body is insufficiently protected. Hypothermia is defined as the body’s core temperature dipping below 95 degrees Fahrenheit. When the body is unable to generate enough energy to keep the internal body temperature at its desired level of homeostasis, the result is hypothermia, which in severe cases can be fatal. In fact, heart failure it what causes most of the deaths due to hypothermia. Those with heart disease are, of course, at a higher risk for this condition, but likewise are children and the elderly population.

Most of us have little choice but to spend some time outside every day, even if it is just to go in and out of the grocery store or place of employment. Rather than spending the next two months cooped up indoors watching daytime TV (heaven forbid), arm yourself instead with appropriate layers and outerwear, including a hat which covers the ears. Remember: Everyone loves a warm-hearted person, and why not keep that heart healthy in the process?