Summer temperatures can be great for outdoor leisure activities, but can take a real toll on our bodies if we engage in more vigorous physical activity. This is especially true for individuals with cardiovascular medical conditions such as Coronary Artery Disease (CAD), as the combination of physical exertion with the body’s diminished thermoregulatory capability can have adverse effects on overall health.
By adverse effects we don’t mean just worsening angina (chest pain or pressure, most often caused by insufficient blood flow to the heart), but something that can lead to far worse outcomes. In general, cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) are the leading cause of mortality worldwide, accounting for more than 17.9 million deaths in 2016 alone (31 % of all deaths globally), but CAD is the biggest killer amongst them and by itself [1, 2]. Patients with CAD should therefore exercise caution when being outdoors (or indoors if there is no HVAC or other means of maintaining acceptable temperatures) during high temperatures and (often) high humidity, which can be strenuous even for younger individuals without cardiovascular issues.
Tips for protecting your heart and health during the hot summer months
- Have adequate supplies of heart medications before going on holiday. This holds true at practically any other time, but patients often forget this when leaving their home environment, particularly if going abroad, where specific medications might not be obtainable,
- Enquire about healthcare options and facilities at your chosen holiday destination. As with the previous tip, take special care if going abroad (enquire if your medical insurance covers emergencies/medical procedures abroad),
- If you have to travel by car or other mode of transportation, start in the morning or evening. Temperatures are usually lower then and there is lower temperature difference between outside and the vehicle’s air-conditioned cabin,
- Keep your home cool. Turn on air conditioning or at least ventilate your dwellings by opening the windows and door in the mornings and evenings when the temperature is lower,
- Limit outdoor physical activity. Exercise (in accordance with your physician’s guidelines) or do chores around the house in the morning and evening when temperatures are usually lower,
- Educate yourself about the side effects of the medications you take (not just for your heart). Ask your physician or pharmacist about medications you have been prescribed. For example, beta blockers (medications for managing abnormal heart rhythm) slow the heartbeat, limiting the heart’s ability to circulate blood fast enough to provide adequate heat exchange in hot conditions. Some antidepressants and antihistamines (medications for treating allergies) interfere with perspiration, thus elevating the risk of heat exhaustion and heat stroke,
- Drink adequate amounts of fluids. You dehydrate faster in hot weather as the body tries to cool itself through perspiration. Additionally, certain heart medications have a diuretic effect (increased urine output), increasing your body’s need for fluids. You should also be aware of elevated losses of important minerals such as potassium, sodium, and magnesium through perspiration – try to replenish them with isotonic beverages (consult with your physician beforehand about this, even if you are not a diabetic or have kidney issues),
- Avoid alcohol and caffeine. Both can amplify already present dehydration,
- Wear light, loose-fitting cotton clothes. Enhance your body’s ability to cool itself, and Avoid alcohol and caffeine. Both can amplify already present dehydration,
- Eat light and preferably cold foods. Instead of heavy, fatty and high-calorie food, indulge in salads and fruits, which will satisfy your hunger and give your body much needed fluids and minerals.
In addition to being cognisant of the aforementioned tips, exercise greater caution if you are older (individuals over 65 years of age have a decreased thirst sensation), are overweight or have other medical conditions (e.g. diabetes or hypertension), as these are additional risk factors for adverse reactions and outcomes .
Please note that the aforementioned list of recommendations for CAD patients during the summer months does NOT constitute medical advice. Consult your physician about proper measures for maintaining your cardiovascular health during periods of high temperatures and otherwise.