Cold weather presents challenges for people who have issues with their heart or lungs. We know how to protect our skin from cold weather, but our internal organs need protection as well.
There are several ways to protect your heart and lungs from the cold.
The first thing any cardio-pulmonary patient should do to protect themselves for winter is to get a flu shot. Of course, you don’t get the flu from cold temperatures, but as the weather cools and humans spend more time clustered indoors, the chances of catching the flu greatly increase. People with a history of heart or lung issues are at a much greater risk than the rest of the population.
“Protection is the key and the flu shot may not be 100 percent effective, but it’s the best we have,” said Dr. Jeffrey Newton, the Medical Director of the Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation program at Beverly and Addison Gilbert Hospitals. He advised cardio-pulmonary patients to get the flu shot before winter, ideally in the Fall. However, if you miss getting the vaccine then, it’s not too late to get it later in the Winter or early Spring. And Dr. Newton reminds patients that you cannot get the flu from the vaccine.
As for outdoor activities in cold weather, pay attention to your body and how you’re feeling, said Samantha Pannier, Clinical Exercise Physiologist, Technical Program Director, Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation at Beverly and Addison Gilbert.
“If you’re going outside, bundle up, wear a scarf or a mask over your mouth,” Pannier said. “If you’re going to drive somewhere, warm up the car first to minimize time breathing in cold air. The lungs and heart work together, and the heart will work harder in the cold,” Pannier said. “People exert themselves in the cold and often they’re going from nothing to really high demand.”
One wintry activity that should be avoided by cardio-pulmonary patients, if at all possible, is shoveling snow. If you can get a neighbor or a relative to do the shoveling, great. If you have the means to hire a neighborhood kid to do it, that’s good too.
“We know this isn’t always possible, so we advise patients to move around inside their house for a few minutes first to get the heart warmed up, engage in proper form, take many smaller loads, and take several breaks if they need to engage in an activity like shoveling,” Pannier said.
Exercise is great for cardio-pulmonary patients, though you have to learn your limits. Exercise can also help with your balance, daily tasks, and is critical to maintaining good health.
“Exercise is very beneficial as long as you follow some simple guidelines,” Pannier said. “It’s important to complete a proper warm-up and cool-down with each exercise session. People need to learn their limitations so they can ensure they are safe. They also need to understand how hard to push themselves to optimize the effectiveness of the activity performed.”
Another tip to stay healthy this season starts with good hand hygiene. This is especially important for those who may have compromised health. “Wash your hands with soap and water and avoid touching your face,” she said. “Your body is working hard to stay strong so the more strategies you apply the better chance you will have a happy, healthy season.”
For more information on staying healthy this winter, speak with your health care provider.