Warm climate or cold, heart deaths rise in the winter

It doesn't matter if you live in Los Angeles or Massachusetts -- you're more likely to die of a heart-related problem such as heart attack or stroke when the weather is (relatively) cold.

Researchers looked at death records from seven U.S. locations -- Los Angeles, Massachusetts, Texas, Arizona, Georgia, Washington and Pennsylvania -- and found a consistent pattern "across the board," said Dr. Robert Kloner, a Los Angeles cardiologist who collaborated on the study. In all of the sites the team surveyed, it found a 26 to 36 percent increase in circulatory deaths in winter compared with summer and early fall.

The results suggested that people acclimatize to the conditions where they live, and that factors beyond temperature -- higher rates of flu infection, less-healthful lifestyles in winter months and higher rates of depression during cold months -- could be important in determining when deaths occur during a typical year.

Much of Kloner's work focuses on triggers of cardiovascular events, he added, noting that there are many triggers of heart problems beyond the chronic risk factors that often come to mind, such as high blood pressure, diabetes and smoking. The holiday season also seems to affect health, Kloner said.

"Maybe it's obnoxious relatives, or financial stress," he said.


Sitting is a real pain in the back

The evils of sitting have been well documented in recent years. It's been associated with everything from increased cancer risk to shorter life expectancy, and it's costing Americans an arm and a leg -- and a back. At least $50 billion is spent each year to treat lower back pain, the fall issue of NYU Physician says.

"Lumbar spine issues are starting to explode as people sit in a chair all day," said Dr. Wayne Stokes. Chronic back pain isn't caused so much by acute injury as by muscles that have become weak or imbalanced from disuse.

Stokes and other doctors are pursuing more holistic treatment regimens that combine medical interventions with lifestyle changes: strengthening exercises for the core and lower back, massage, acupuncture, anti-inflammatory meds and injections. And above all, we need to get up, stand up.

"Setting an alarm to go off every 20 to 30 minutes is a good reminder to stand up," says Stokes. "Even 15 seconds of standing helps break the seated cycle."