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Don Paul: When the temps go down, your blood pressure goes up

Cold weather can make high blood pressure get higher. This layperson suspected that was the case, but an article from has evidence that confirms my suspicions. Since we’re now into an extended period of colder than average temperatures, this seems like a good time to touch upon this topic.

Ohio State University cardiologist Ragavendra Baliga reports cold weather is statistically linked with increased incidence of heart attacks, stroke, and cardiovascular mortality in peer-reviewed data.

In related research, a University of Florida study shows just 5 minutes exposure to 52 degrees Fahrenheit can raise blood pressure. (Sidebar: Those of you unsure of your cardiovascular health should probably take this into consideration before taking part in the Polar Plunge.)

Of course, the impact of heightened blood pressure is greater on older people. (Who, me?) Elderly folks have some hardening and narrowing of the arteries, so the heart has to generate more pressure to keep the flow going.

New York University Nieca Goldberg says, ““For people who have heart disease and those who are being controlled on blood pressure medicine, if they go out in extremely cold temperatures like blizzards or decide to shovel the snow, they may start to experience symptoms like shortness of breath and chest tightness.”

The preventive measure to this hazard is as obvious as you might guess: If you’re among the 72 million Americans (103 million if the new hypertension standard is accepted by your MD) who suffer from hypertension, avoid prolonged exposure to the cold, be sure and dress nice and warm, and cover as much exposed skin as you can if you must be outside.

On the other side of the coin, there is the relationship between alcohol and the vascular system in the cold. As Paternal Paul has lectured on air many times, booze — pardon the vernacular — may give you a heightened sense of warmth and other sensations like euphoria or rage, say, at Bills tailgating and during the game.

But quite the opposite is occurring. Alcohol dilates the capillaries in your skin and, in effect, you become an efficient radiator. Simply put, you lose more heat from exposed skin when you’ve been drinking it up. Given cold and wind, you place yourself at increased risk of hypothermia. And, yes, wind chill makes a HUGE difference not only in how your skin feels, but eventually in your core body temperature as well. The elderly (Who, me?) are at higher risk than other population groups. This process is called vasodilation. That’s a word you will surely mispronounce if you’ve been getting plastered. Maybe saying it could become part of a sobriety test.

Finally, even in cold weather, alcohol is a diuretic. That is, you will hit the restrooms and lose more fluid than you took in. I will serve as a model of decorum and not drink at all on game day. OK, it’s because I’m working. WKBW management does not like all vowel weathercasts.

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