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john65pennington's avatar

Does living in a colder climate cause a strain on the human heart?

Asked by john65pennington (29070 points ) January 23rd, 2012

It seems as though people living and dealing with colder temperatures, have more heart-related health problems, that those that live in a warmer atmosphere. Question: does living in a colder climate cause a strain on the human heart and is there medical evidence to support this?

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22 Answers

JLeslie's avatar

I don’t know if the cold causes strain, but certainly people have had heart attacks shoveling snow. The exhaustian from shoveling snow sneaks up on you, it is very easy to over do it.

Also, in a cold climate the diet tends to be heavier. I see it in my husband and I, on cold days we want heavy warm food. Fruit and salads don’t sound very attractive when your cold. When I lived in Florida I craved fresh fruits and raw veggies; living north in the winter I eat all too much pizza and meat.

For me living in warm weather also meant being outside and getting more exercise. Some people love winter sports, and I guess for them they get great exercise, but I think for most people the cold weather makes us want to curl under a blanket.

I guess I am saying the climates can influence lifestyle, which influences heart health.

EverRose11's avatar

No I do not believe that is true I believe it is no matter where you live as long as you keep moving and exercise to the best of your ability, unless heart problems run in your family… living in hot or cold weather heart problems and or diseases are about the same. I do feel esp. while staying with my parents you would read in the newspaper at least once a week how someone had a heart attack while shoveling snow. Shoot there were days I thought I would have one.

marinelife's avatar

No, I don’t think climate affects the functioning of the heart.

tedd's avatar

Theoretically it could.

One of the ways your body maintains it’s body heat is by using your blood flow. The friction and what not of the blood traveling through your body warms you. If you lived in a colder climate, your heart would theoretically have to beat harder to keep you warmer.

But as if to immediately throw off my own suggestion, I’m pretty sure the longest average lifespan in the world currently belongs to Iceland.

CWOTUS's avatar

Just “living in a cold climate” doesn’t have a particularly adverse effect on health, I think. But being unprepared for extreme cold certainly can.

Several years ago I read a true account of the Children’s Blizzard of 1888 in the American Midwest. It was a particularly fast-moving and wickedly cold storm that caught everyone by surprise, especially by surprise since it came in so quickly and forcefully after a long period of shirt-sleeve warm winter weather that everyone was enjoying.

What happened, in fact, was that the blizzard struck without advance warning during a weekday when most children were at school. Some schools let children out early, and they began walking home. Many were lost and killed that way, and many more who hadn’t lost their way were still killed by exposure and unpreparedness.

Some students (and teachers) who sought shelter in the outdoors or in the school buildings themselves did manage to survive the day and night of the storm, but in documented case after case, when they emerged from their relative shelter into the calm, but brutal cold of the next morning, even when rescuers were in plain sight, they dropped and died very quickly due to that extreme cold.

Ron_C's avatar

People living in really cold climates are likely to have a little extra fat for insulation. Although it keeps them warm, it causes other problems and builds up in the arteries. Of course the transition from being snowed in and idle followed by strenuous snow shoveling is a bad combination for someone at my age (middle 60’s) no matter what their weight.

Skaggfacemutt's avatar

With all of our heaters and air conditioners, I don’t think the outside climate has time to have much effect on our health.

gasman's avatar

Populations adapted to cold climate don’t necessarily have higher rates of cardiovascular disease. Mild hypothermia, however, such as might occur in someone unprepared for cold, causes peripheral vasoconstriction in skin and other tissues, which tends to increases blood pressure and cardiac work. Cold weather is a risk factor for heart attack.

SpatzieLover's avatar

Certain areas of the US attracted people from specific areas of Europe.
Personally, I think genetics are to play more than the cold.

6rant6's avatar

Cold climate = vodka. Not so good.

flutherother's avatar

Cold weather can bring on heart attacks and living in a hot humid climate can also increase the risk of heart attacks and strokes. At least in cold weather you can wrap up warm but there isn’t much you can do in the heat.

Nullo's avatar

Probably not; you acclimate to the cold in just a few years. (Native Californian living in Missouri!)

Earthgirl's avatar

gasman is correct. Even when not exercising or shoveling snow cold weather puts extra stress on your heart. It’s probably not going to matter unless you already have heart disease but if you do your heart has to work harder to maintain body heat and pump your blood.
http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/blood-pressure/AN01786
http://www.smart-heart-living.com/cold-weather-and-heart.html

YARNLADY's avatar

The cold weather itself does not, but what you do because of the weather does.

Earthgirl's avatar

YARNLADY I am sorry but this is not true. Cold stresses the heart. My cardiollogist has told me as much.

CWOTUS's avatar

@Earthgirl I agree with your cardiologist that “cold stresses the heart”, but I don’t agree that “cold weather” necessarily does. The distinction is important. Dressing properly for “cold weather” means that you won’t be “cold”.

In addition to that I would add (and I’m sure that your cardiologist will also agree with this) that exercise also stresses the heart. But no one would suggest that we should avoid exercise for that reason.

Earthgirl's avatar

CWOTUS I only found out about this the hard way. Personal experience. A couple years ago, in the winter, I started having pains in my chest as I was walking home in the cold. This came on suddenly. Indoors I would feel ok but when I would walk a normal pace, just a short walk, no more than 10 minutes, in the cold I would start to feel it. I would pull my scarf around my face to warm the air coming in my throat and I would stop and pause 2 or three times in my 10 minute walk. Warming the air would help ease the pain a little. Once home and in the warmth again I would be fine. This went on for about 2 weeks. I had no history of heart disease. I had no known risk factors. I ended up in the emergency room and needing a stent. I had a 99% blockage in one of my arteries. I told the doctor about how it used to hurt walking in the cold and asked him if the cold could aggravate things. That is when he said, and did not go into great detail really, that the cold stresses everything including the heart. I was warmly dressed but the cold air coming in my throat was enough to make me feel pain from my blocked artery. Since then I have learned that heart disease is a common side effect of radiation therapy which I had in my youth for Hodgkins Disease.

mattbrowne's avatar

No. Extreme conditions can be a problem for people with existing heart problems. But this applies both to going outside without appropriate clothes when it’s very cold and to going outside when it’s very hot or having to live in non-air-conditioned rooms. A good example were the elderly in France during the extreme heat in the summer of 2003, although not all deaths were related to heart problems.

Skaggfacemutt's avatar

I guess if you live in Antarctica, but extreme heat or cold is hard on the elderly and frail. I can’t imagine a lovely winter day being a problem.

Ron_C's avatar

Tell the old guy laying on his sidewalk with a snow-shovel in his hand that cold weather isn’t stressful.

Skaggfacemutt's avatar

Tell the same guy laying on his lawn with a lawnmower by his side the same thing!

SpatzieLover's avatar

touché

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