Busting cold weather myths

(NEW YORK) — With a monster snowstorm expected to hit the East Coast this weekend, plenty of people are preparing to face their first major dose of wind, ice and snow this winter. But there are a few persistent cold weather health myths that are more harmful and helpful for people wanting to know the best way to handle a blizzard.

Myth: Have a sip of alcohol to ward off the winter chill:

Despite images of cartoon St. Bernards lugging brandy barrels under their collars, experts say despite the warm feeling a shot of whiskey can bring, alcohol is actually more harmful than helpful in cold temperatures.

Too much alcohol can actually make you colder, according to the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Same goes for caffeinated beverages; both, “cause your body to lose heat more rapidly,” the CDC says.

Additionally, the American Heart Association warns that people who become impaired after drinking alcohol may not realize how the cold weather is affecting them. “Alcohol may increase a person’s sensation of warmth and may cause them to underestimate the extra strain their body is under in the cold,” the American Heart Association explained.

Speaking of hearts, let’s bust another myth:

Myth: Shovel snow early in the day:

Picking up that shovel in the early morning may appear to be the responsible thing to do after a big snowstorm, but that chore can have serious health effects. Simply shoveling snow can be a dangerous for those at risk of heart attack, since being in the cold and lifting a heavy shovel can put an added strain on the heart, according to the American Heart Association.

Dr. Clyde Yancy, chief of cardiology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, explained in 2014 that hormone levels in the morning make blood “stickier.” That, coupled with the cold’s constricting of blood vessels can spell big problems for people at greater risk of a heart attack.

Additionally, getting the flu, or winter habits such as overeating during the holidays or going on vacation to warm areas, can all have an impact on your heart,” Dr. Yancy said. “We should all realize that over the winter season, we’re just more vulnerable.”

Myth: As long as people are indoors they are safe:

Unfortunately, even being indoors doesn’t protect everyone from bitter winter cold. If a house isn’t properly heated or if the heat is shut off, elderly residents and infants can be at greater risk for developing hypothermia.

The CDC advises keeping a close eye on infants during winter months and making sure that they’re not sleeping in cold rooms. Unlike adults, infants can’t shiver to stay warm and they are less able to regulate body temperature; the latter is also suffered by the elderly.

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