As our region is experiencing snow and some of the coldest air it has seen it years, it’s important to think about how this winter weather can affect your heart.

“It’s a perfect storm for heart disease,” says Terry Jodrie, M.D., emergency physician at Washington Adventist Hospital. “You have people who aren’t physically fit heading outside to lift shovels of snow, and because of the cold weather their blood vessels are becoming smaller. It creates a set of circumstances that heart disease loves.”

The combination of colder temperatures and physical activity increases the workload on the heart.  People with heart disease often suffer from chest pain or discomfort in the cold weather, and studies suggest extreme winter conditions can increase a person’s risk of a heart attack.

“We do tend to see a spike in heart attacks and unstable angina on very cold days,” says Jodrie.

The American Heart Association offers these winter weather tips for those with existing heart disease:

  • Give yourself a break. Take frequent rest breaks during shoveling so you don’t overstress your heart. Pay attention to how your body feels during those breaks.
  • Don’t eat a heavy meal prior or soon after shoveling. Eating a large meal can put an extra load on your heart.
  • Use a small shovel or consider a snow thrower. The act of lifting heavy snow can raise blood pressure acutely during the lift. It is safer to lift smaller amounts more times, than to lug a few huge shovelfuls of snow. When possible, simply push the snow.
  • Learn the heart attack warning signs and listen to your body, but remember this: Even if you’re not sure it’s a heart attack, have it checked out (tell a doctor about your symptoms). Minutes matter! Don’t wait more than five minutes to call 9-1-1
  • Consult a doctor. If you have a medical condition, don’t exercise on a regular basis or are middle aged or older, meet with your doctor prior to exercising in cold weather.
  • Be aware of the dangers of hypothermia. Heart failure causes most deaths in hypothermia. To prevent hypothermia, dress in layers of warm clothing, which traps air between layers forming a protective insulation. Wear a hat because much of your body’s heat can be lost through your head.

For more cold weather safety tips from Dr. Terry Jodrie, listen to his interview on WTOP radio.

Are you at risk for heart disease? Learn your heart age and risk for heart disease with our quick and easy heart health risk assessment, available at