College of DuPage Nursing Student Lee Minyoung.Winter in Chicago is brutal! The lakes freeze up, snow is everywhere, and the streets need to be consistently shoveled. Average high temperatures in Chicago typically range from 30 to 38 degrees F and the average annual snowfall is ~ 37 inches.
When the cold temperature hit our body, our blood vessels constrict, and in a younger generation, our sympathetic nerve system, also known of as the fight or flight response, is stimulated, and this contributes to the release of the chemical, norepinephrine, or ‘noradrenaline’, similar to the substance adrenaline in our body. Our body reacts to increase blood flow to warm the body. For elderly individuals, this process may be slightly slower, since, with aging, blood vessels become thicker, stiffer, and less flexible. When the cold Chicago winter strikes and blood vessels constrict, the blood pressure increases in addition to an increase in the risk for hypertension and stroke. The blood vessels located in our head are the closest to our skin, so these are most exposed during the winter months. Research studies have demonstrated mortality rates in winter to be about 26% higher than other seasons, and 52% of the deaths are caused by cardiovascular disease
How do we prepare for winter?
If you are not planning to travel to a warm location during the upcoming winter months, here are some tips to keep in mind when venturing outside in cold:
- Wear several layers of thin clothing; wool, silk, or polypropylene keep body temperature higher
- Cover your head with warm winter hats to prevent cerebrovascular accidents
- Keep warm hands and feet by wearing warm socks and non-slip boots, and getting a few heat packs for your hands and body
- If you are taking a cardiovascular medication, do not miss a dose
- Keep your blood pressure low by changing your diet or doing light exercises
- Drink hot meals and hot drinks, but avoid caffeine
- Prune any trees that are blocking sunlight into your house
Several websites are available, providing additional tips to brave the Chicago winters!
Average temperatures in Chicago: https://www.choosechicago.com/plan-your-trip/weather-in-chicago/
Blood vessels and aging: https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/004006.htm
How our body rewarms ourselves: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6131011
Temperature changes and growing old: https://news.psu.edu/story/418049/2016/07/26/research/hot-and-cold-growing-old
Mortality rate during winter: https://news.psu.edu/story/418049/2016/07/26/research/hot-and-cold-growing-old
Keeping warm for winter: https://www.experthomecare.com/tips-for-the-elderly-to-stay-warm-in-winter/