The risk for heart attacks jumps about 30 percent during winter months, according to Sanford Health Cardiologist Dr. Nayan Desai. He says activities like shoveling snow should be avoided for those with heart conditions.

“That is the perfect situation if you have a plaque in the arteries of the heart to rupture or break loose, form a blood clot and cause a heart attack,” Dr. Desai said.

Dr. Desai says too much exertion too quickly in the cold when arteries are constricted, makes blood flow more difficult and heart attacks more likely.

But it’s not the only factor for a heart attack in the winter.

“So inactivity, then of course holidays being around in winter — the diet patterns and eating habits definitely play a role, so rather than one thing it’s kind of a combination,” Desai said.

On top of the winter being harder on hearts, the pandemic is playing a role, too.

A study published early this month in the American Heart Association’s journal, Circulation, found that the pandemic is associated with higher blood pressure levels among middle-aged adults across the U.S.

That’s something CHI St. Alexius cardiologists have seen firsthand.

“Throughout the pandemic, we’re seeing a lot more hypertension and increases in blood pressure because people becoming sedentary, not getting enough exercise, their diet might not be as good as it used to be,” CHI St. Alexius Interventional Cardiologist Dr. Michael Flisak said.

Dr. Flisak says simple things like exercise, and seeing your doctor regularly for checkups, can help reduce your risk of heart attacks.

“Even walking 20, 30 minutes at a time will decrease your stress. It doesn’t have to be anything strenuous, you don’t need to be running marathons or 5ks, or going to the gym and lifting tons of weights, even walking can be a great stress reliever.”

Even with COVID-19, heart disease was still the leading cause of death in 2020.