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Heart Health Center

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Physically Unprepared Skiers Face Heart Risk

High Altitudes and Low Temperatures Add to Risk of a Heart Attack on the Slopes
WebMD Health News

Sept. 1, 2010 (Stockholm, Sweden) -- As you start your early planning for this winter's ski vacation, you should be thinking about more than getting the best possible plane ticket and hotel rates -- think about your heart, too.

Many people fail to rev up their exercise regimen before they leave -- and the sudden burst of activity on the slopes puts them at risk for sudden cardiac death, researchers say.

"Our study of tourists in the Austrian Alps shows that inadequate preparation for the physical exertion required, combined with the effect of high altitude and cold temperatures, led to an increase in heart attacks, particularly during the first two days of vacation," says study researcher Gert Klug, MD, of the Medical University of Innsbruck in Austria.

Previous research showed that sudden cardiac death, of which heart attacks were the leading cause, accounted for 40% of deaths on the slopes. The new study aimed to figure out why the figure was so high, Klug tells WebMD.

Heart Attacks Can Happen at Start of Vacation

The researchers analyzed data on 110 people who had suffered a heart attack during their winter sports vacation in the Alps between 2006 and 2010. All filled out detailed questionnaires that asked about their heart disease risk factors, activities before their trip, and circumstances under which they suffered their first symptoms.

Among the findings, presented here at the European Society of Cardiology Congress:

  • 56% of heart attacks occurred within the first two days of hitting the slopes; 39% struck on the day of arrival.
  • About one in five people had suffered previous heart symptoms, and seven in 10 had at least two heart disease risk factors such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or smoking.
  • Half suffered their heart attack during or within one hour of activity.
  • The average time from hitting the slopes to suffering the first symptoms was nearly two hours.
  • More than 50% had not been doing the recommended levels of exercise before they left. You should engage in at least two hours of physical activity a week in the weeks leading up to a vacation in which you’re going to be more physically active than usual, Klug says.

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