Winter warning: Study finds high blood pressure actually gets worse in cold weather

BOSTON — While some studies have shown that living in cold temperatures may be good for your health, a new report reveals that winter is the worst season for your heart. Researchers with the American Heart Association found that blood pressure slightly rises in cold weather. Among adults with high blood pressure, their numbers increased up to 1.7 mmHg in the winter compared to the summer months.

Nearly half of adults living in the U.S. have high blood pressure, estimates show. This condition, if not managed correctly, can damage the arteries and reduce blood flow and oxygen to the heart. High blood pressure is influenced by various factors — diet, stress, and other health conditions — with recent research adding the weather to the list.

Most of the changes that happen during the winter months affect a person’s systolic blood pressure (the top number in a BP reading). This number tells you how much pressure is in blood vessels during heartbeats.

“Despite the smaller degree of systolic blood pressure variation in comparison to previous studies on seasonality in blood pressure, we were surprised to observe a large degree of change in blood pressure control between winter and summer months,” says lead study author Robert B. Barrett, a software engineer with the American Medical Association, in a media release. “Individuals with hypertension or values near the range of hypertension may benefit from periodic blood pressure monitoring and improvements in physical activity and nutritional patterns during winter months to offset adverse effects from seasonal blood pressure changes.”

woman wearing black jacket walking on snow
(Photo by Drew Coffman on Unsplash)

The study authors examined medical records of 60,676 adults with high blood pressure between July 2018 and June 2023 at six different healthcare centers in the Southeast and Midwest. Each person continued taking their prescribed medication to manage high blood pressure. The authors compared blood pressure readings for each participant in the winter (December through February) versus the summer months (June through August).

People showed an average increase of 1.7 mmHg in their systolic blood pressure in the winter compared to the summer. Blood pressure control rates were lowered by up to five percent during the winter. The changes in blood pressure in colder temperatures correspond with previous research from the American Heart Association, where the winter is associated with more deaths from heart attack and heart disease.

In the future, the authors hope to expand the findings to see how blood pressure changes every season. It may also include a complete health history of each participant, as that was not included in the current research.

The team presented their findings at the American Heart Association’s Hypertension Scientific Sessions 2023.

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About the Author

Jocelyn Solis-Moreira

Jocelyn is a New York-based science journalist whose work has appeared in Discover Magazine, Health, and Live Science, among other publications. She holds a Master’s of Science in Psychology with a concentration in behavioral neuroscience and a Bachelor’s of Science in integrative neuroscience from Binghamton University. Jocelyn has reported on several medical and science topics ranging from coronavirus news to the latest findings in women’s health.

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