Winterize your body to cut your heart attack risk

The temperatures are starting to drop... and you know what's coming next.

It's not just pumpkin pie.

It's almost time to winterize your home and your car, getting them both ready for cold weather and -- if you live to the north -- the coming snow.


But while you're at it, don't forget to winterize something that's even more important than your home and your car -- your body.

New research shows again how you face bigger risks in colder weather, and it's not just those nasty winter viruses such as the flu.

Other risks jump as well, including the odds of facing a heart attack.

The new study out of Sweden finds that the country has four extra heart attacks per day when the temperature drops below 32 degrees, compared to when it's above 50 degrees.

Now, the United States has more than 30 times the population of Sweden -- including dozens of heavily populated states where the mercury routinely dips below freezing in winter -- making the effect here potentially far bigger.

One reason for the risk is that cold weather causes your blood vessels to constrict... your heart rate to jump... and your blood pressure to rise.

That's all normal. It's part of the internal thermostat in our design that helps us handle low temperatures -- so, for the most part, it's nothing to worry about.

But if you're already facing heart risk and have some of the other factors that can set the stage for those problems, it could be enough to trigger an attack.

Winter weather also helps infections like the cold, flu, and pneumonia to spread -- and all three of those can increase the risk of a heart attack during and after the illness.

One study found that your heart attack risk jumps by 17 times in the week after a major infection... and 13 times after a milder one.

You can't do anything about the weather -- well, short of moving down here to San Diego, where winter is something we only see on TV.

But you CAN take action.

If you're in a cold-weather location, recognize that your health risks shift with the seasons.

Just as you might have to change the fluids in your car to a winter formula, you need to winterize your body with vitamin D.

Not only will this nutrient fight the cold and flu, but it also helps blood vessels to relax, cutting your heart risk and quite possibly saving your life on a chilly day.

With low sun in winter, it's harder for your body to make what it needs -- so, if you're not taking a supplement yet, it's time to get started.

Most people need between 2,000 and 5,000 IU per day any time of year, and some may need a little more in winter. Your doc can test your levels and help you figure out how much you need.