Our health can be dramatically impacted by the seasons—and in the winter we tend to notice these effects most. Cold weather and less sunlight are linked to numerous biochemical changes in the body that can challenge our physical and mental/emotional wellness.1 From increased immune activity and inflammation to the winter blues and seasonal affective disorder, the winter season is a time to pay closer attention to health and support the systems that are most vulnerable this time of year.
Your Heart Health in the Winter
During the winter, one key body system to support is your cardio-respiratory system – your heart and lungs. These two powerhouse organs work closely together to ensure that every cell, tissue and organ in your body is nourished with fresh oxygenated blood. The colder weather of the winter season brings several challenges that can seriously impact your cardio-respiratory health, and increase your chances of a heart attack, stroke, serious respiratory infection, and other risks. For example, cold winter temperatures raise the risks of heart attacks by up to 50% or more compared to summer. Data shows the risks of a heart attack or stroke are highest in sub-freezing temperatures.2,3
How Winter Impacts Your Heart Rate, Cholesterol, and Blood Pressure
Why are heart attacks highest in the winter months? The main reason is that cold weather constricts your arteries and raises blood pressure, while your heart has to work harder to keep you warm. This raises your heart rate. Research shows systolic blood pressure is on average 5 points higher among elderly people during the winter compared to summer. Engaging in difficult strenuous activity (like shoveling snow) during cold temperatures puts extra strain on your heart and cardiovascular system, increasing your risks further. Cholesterol levels also tend to be higher in the winter—up to 1.7 % higher in women and 3.5% higher in men. 4-6
If you’re over age 65 or are already struggling with cardiovascular health, these risks are even greater.
How The Cold Impacts Inflammation and Immunity
Rates of respiratory infections are higher during the winter, and even a mild infection can put your lungs and heart at considerable risk. Many viruses thrive in colder temperatures, and the increased exposure to colds and flus, along with other pro-inflammatory factors like processed foods and lack of exercise, can trigger uncontrolled inflammation in your heart and lungs. The increased production of inflammatory immune compounds and cytokines can lead to arterial plaque build-up, while overwhelming the lungs with damaging inflammation.7
Winter and Plaque ruptures
While inflammation can cause increased plaque build-up in the cardiovascular system, cold temperatures raise the risks of plaque ruptures. When arterial plaques rupture or break off into the circulation, they can end up blocking major arteries and causing a heart attack or stroke. With the additional risks of increased blood pressure, plaque ruptures are seen more often in the winter season.1
Lack of Vitamin D During Winter Months
Vitamin D is produced by the body through exposure to sunlight, so most people’s levels tend to be lower in the winter. Lack of vitamin D is linked to increased risks of cardiovascular disease, immune suppression, respiratory illness, mood disorders and more. Supplementing with 1,000 IUs of vitamin D3 during the winter can help keep levels stable to support immunity, cardiorespiratory health, and more.
Mind-Body Seasonal Support for Your Winter Routine
Integrative medicine often draws on the principles of traditional, time-honored medical systems including Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). TCM is rooted in the philosophy that for optimal health, we want to harmonize with our environment by aligning our self-care routines with seasonal patterns. This means slowing down during cold winter months in order to conserve energy, which is why TCM practitioners advise resting as much as possible during the winter. Reducing stress and improving sleep can also help you preserve your warmth and vitality, balance immunity, and support optimal cardiorespiratory wellness.
One of the best ways to reduce stress, improve your cardio-respiratory system, and open the door to deep healing, is with opens in a new windowsimple meditation that focuses on the breath and heart. Energetically, your heart works non-stop together with the lungs, taking in waste-filled blood and purifying it with oxygen, then sending clean blood to every cell, tissue, and organ in the body without discrimination, and without ever taking a break. In this way, our heart and our breath hold the power to detoxify, transform, and ultimately heal us on every level: physical, mental and emotional. Simple daily meditation practice, with a focus on slow, deep breathing, can help us opens in a new windowopen our hearts and discover our innate capacity for infinite love, compassion, and healing.
The Best Supplements for Heart and Lung Support
There are also a variety of nutraceutical supplements that are essential for optimal cardiorespiratory health. One in particular is opens in a new windowModified Citrus Pectin (MCP) which is earning recognition for its ability to control an inflammatory protein called galectin-3—and in doing so, help to prevent and reverse heart disease. Galectin-3 is a master “alarm” protein that plays a role in cardiac remodeling and fibrosis, key aspects of cardiovascular disease. A fast-growing body of opens in a new windowresearch shows that MCP binds and blocks the harmful aspects of galectin-3 to prevent and reverse its damage to the heart, lungs, kidneys and other key organs.
In my practice, I also recommend an extensively researched opens in a new windowTibetan Herbal Formula, backed by over 30 published opens in a new windowclinical studies in cardiovascular health, respiratory infections, and other key areas. Based on a time-honored botanical formula, this cardiovascular supplement is shown to benefit heart health, improve vascular flow, increase walking distance, reduce the incidence of lung infections, and more. With antioxidant-rich botanicals like Icelandic moss, neem, and others, this formula offers broad-spectrum support for optimal circulation and cardiovascular health, immunity and long-term wellness.
The stillness of winter gives us time to reflect on the past year and build new energy and vitality for the upcoming new year. With the right nourishment, rest and support, we can revitalize our systems and prepare for increased activity as the weather warms. For now, we can take the time to rest, relax, and renew.
Kurihara O, Takano M, Yamamoto E, et al. Seasonal Variations in the Pathogenesis of Acute Coronary Syndromes. J Am Heart Assoc. 2020 Jul 7;9(13):e015579.
Mohammad MA, Koul S, Rylance R, et al. Association of Weather With Day-to-Day Incidence of Myocardial Infarction: A SWEDEHEART Nationwide Observational Study. JAMA Cardiol. 2018;3(11):1081–1089.
Cook, Shannon, Frank Lloyd, Jr., Alfie Ballew, and George E. Sandusky. (2013, April 5). Increased Ischemic Cardiac Deaths in Central Indiana in Summer Months Compared to Winter Months. Poster session presented at IUPUI Research Day 2013, Indianapolis, Indiana.
Alperovitch , A. Archives of Internal Medicine, Jan. 12, 2009; vol 169: pp 75-80.
Martin Juneau. Effects of Cold on Cardiovascular Health. MyHeart.net website. Updated Oct 18, 2021. Accessed January 31, 2022.
Dennis Thompson. Cholesterol Levels May Spike During Winter Months. Web MD website. Updated March 27, 2014. Accessed January 31, 2022.
Liu B, Taioli E (2015) Seasonal Variations of Complete Blood Count and Inflammatory Biomarkers in the US Population – Analysis of NHANES Data. PLOS ONE 10(11): e0142382.