Seasonal weather changes don't just mean rotating your wardrobe. A growing body of research says the changing seasons affect your blood pressure too.
French researchers published a study in the Archives of Internal Medicine that says your systolic blood pressure (the top number) is likely to be about five points higher in the winter than it is in the dog days of summer. And tacking even a few extra points onto your blood pressure can be dangerous.
"Deaths from cardiovascular disease are higher in winter and lower in summer,” said Dr. Pedro Marques-Vidal, the lead researcher for the study. “People need to make an extra effort to exercise and eat healthily in the winter to protect their health.”
Blood pressure is generally higher in the winter than the summer, agrees Nancy Simpkins, MD, an internist in Livingston, New Jersey. “When temperatures get colder, blood vessels constrict and therefore raise blood pressure.”
6 ways to make a big difference in your blood pressure
1. Keep exercising. You can walk outside, on the treadmill, or do indoor routines from a DVD or streaming service online. But consider fun ways to move, too, says Danine Fruge, MD, associate medical director of the Pritikin Longevity Center & Spa in Miami, Florida. “Dance to your favorite tunes when it’s cold outside," Fruge suggests. You can also park in the farthest stall possible at the grocery store, make extra trips to and from the laundry room, or pace around the room while talking on the phone.
“Among its many benefits, exercise is very effective in lowering blood pressure for a healthy heart,” says Dr. Fruge.
2. Eat only when you're hungry. “Weight gain is associated with elevated blood pressure that contributes to heart disease,” says Dr. Fruge. Cut out snacking or eating when you’re bored to help prevent packing on excess weight.
3. Skip the hot toddy. Don't drink alcohol before going outside. Dr. Simpkins says this causes blood vessels in the skin to expand and draw heat away from vital organs like the heart. This can cause a sudden change in blood pressure.
4. Slash your salt. Aim for low sodium intake, less than 1,500 mg per day. “This is very effective in lowering high blood pressure if followed regularly,” says Dr. Fruge. A good rule to follow is to stay away from foods that contain more sodium than calories per serving.
5. Make time to relax. Downtime and de-stressing are important for optimum heart health. “If it’s tough to find time to relax, schedule it," says Dr. Fruge. “Take a yoga class, put time to meditate on your calendar or start the habit to pray daily. All of these have been proven to decrease a body’s response to stress and lower blood pressure, which help decrease the risk for heart disease.”
6. Shovel slowly. Instead of charging out into the snow to clear the driveway or sidewalk as fast as possible, ease into winter activities. Dr. Simpkins says the rapid exercise coupled with the cold may cause a dramatic and dangerous spike in blood pressure.