Boost your heart health this winter

Winter places added strain on your heart. Here's how you can keep yours healthy and happy.

01 July 2014
by Wendy Maritz

There is a well-documented trend of more deaths due to heart attack and other forms of heart disease during winter time, so it’s doubly important to know your risk profile and protect your heart as the chill sets in.

While South Africa doesn’t suffer the extreme temperatures of countries in the northern hemisphere, winter time certainly does bring with it a change of lifestyle, which doesn’t always bode well for heart health. We generally tend to spend more time indoors, exercise less and indulge more in comfort food. (Salads do lose their appeal when the barometer drops to below 5 degrees.)

Gabriel Eksteen of the Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa (HSFSA) explains that the associated risk factors for heart disease, like physical inactivity, poor dietary habits, high cholesterol and raised blood pressure ‘can all get a little worse in winter’.

Then there are the effects of respiratory infections (especially in immune-compromised or vulnerable individuals, like the elderly, those with asthma, and anyone already suffering from heart disease) and possible hormonal changes in the body (that occur in response to lower temperatures).

The importance of vitamin D

Vitamin D deficiency is another factor, and has been linked to a number of conditions, including osteoporosis and heart disease. So, it’s important to still get your dose of vitamin D. In South Africa, we are fortunate to experience dollops of winter sunshine. The amount of sun we need depends on the clothing we wear, whether we use sunblock, the time of the year, and ethnicity. Whilst most people should be getting enough sun, individuals can develop a deficiency if they rarely go outside. If you think you could be at risk, a simple blood test will determine if your vitamin D levels are too low. If this is the case your GP can advise you about a course of supplements. Vitamin D supplements are available at Clicks, ask a Clicks pharmacist about these if you require more information.

"People should always be aware of their risk factors for heart disease no matter the season," advises Eksteen. "We should try to maintain healthy habits, such as exercising regularly, eating a balanced diet low in unhealthy fats, sugar and salt, and avoiding tobacco products. Up to 80 percent of all cardiovascular disease can be prevented by following those three pillars of health," he adds.

In addition, having a yearly flu vaccine (available at Clicks clinics) and dressing appropriately for the cold weather are also important.

Additional boosters for heart health

  • Include fatty fish (sardines, pilchards, salmon or mackerel) in your diet at least twice a week. Fatty fish is also one of the few good dietary sources of vitamin D.
  • Limit your intake of salt when cooking or in the form of salty snacks, processed meat, stocks, soup powders and ready-made gravies.
  • Include good fats in your diet, such as olive oil, nuts, seeds and avocado.
  • Limit alcohol intake to one drink a day for women and two for men.

How Clicks Clinics can help you

Clicks Clinics can help you prevent or manage heart disease with their wide range of screening tests. These include:

  • Blood Pressure (BP) Test
  • Cholesterol Testing and Consultation
  • Lipogram Blood Test (to determine different types of cholesterol)
  • Clicks Full Basic Screening (BP, Body Mass Index or BMI, meal guide and exercise plan)
  • Clicks Screening Measurements only (BP and BMI)
  • Clicks Comprehensive Screening (BP, BMI, Glucose and Cholesterol screening, plus meal and exercise plan)

To make an appointment at a Clicks Clinic, call 0860 254 257 or visit Clicks Clinics online

Read More: Heart Disease Super Section