Old Man Winter appears to be good friends with the Grim Reaper. European researchers have tied cold weather to a greater rate of heart attacks and deaths, with cardiovascular risk factors highest in winter and lowest in summer.
In a study presented to a meeting of the European Society of Cardiology in Amsterdam this week, a team of researchers said an analysis of more than 100,000 people in seven countries found that levels of several cardiovascular risk factors — such as blood pressure, overweight, and total cholesterol — were higher in winter (January to February) and lower in summer (June to August), compared to the annual average.
"Deaths from cardiovascular disease are higher in winter and lower in summer," said lead researcher Pedro Marques-Vidal, M.D., from Switzerland. "We decided to conduct a large scale study to see whether cardiovascular risk factors have a seasonal pattern which could explain the seasonality in deaths."
To reach their conclusions, the investigators tracked medical records of 21,128 people in Belgium, 15,664 in Denmark, 1,626 in France, 18,370 in Italy, 25,532 in Norway, 9,359 in Russia, and 15,411 in Switzerland.
The found significant seasonal differences in several risk factors — for instance summer blood pressure readings were markedly lower on average.
"Although this difference is almost irrelevant for an individual, it is considerable for a whole population because the whole blood pressure distribution is shifted to higher values, increasing cardiovascular risk," noted Dr. Marques-Vidal. "Indeed, the impact of season on blood pressure levels might have as great an impact on cardiovascular risk as genetic markers for blood pressure."
The researchers suggested seasonal changes in eating and activity levels tied to the weather may account for the differences.
"Our large scale study shows that some cardiovascular risk factors take holidays over the summer," noted Dr. Marques-Vidal. "People need to make an extra effort to exercise and eat healthily in the winter to protect their health."
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