Sure, we’ve passed through the worst of the #blizzardof2015, but that doesn’t mean we’re totally out of the woods—snow shoveling can be a risk for those with cardiovascular disease.
The Snow and Ice Management Association (SIMA) notes the link between shoveling and cardiac arrest: “A 2011 study published in Clinical Research in Cardiology revealed that shoveling snow actually does increase the risk of a having a heart attack. The study looked at 500 people and found that 7% started experiencing symptoms of heart problems while shoveling snow. The cardiologists conducting the Canadian study felt that while 7% is significant, there could be as many as double that number given the fact that the patients may not have connected their heart problems with snow shoveling.”
So, what is the safest way to shovel snow?
SIMA suggests clearing the snow every few inches instead of letting it accumulate into feet, wearing breathable layers, and pushing rather than lifting snow when you’re shoveling.
The American Heart Association adds that “the combination of colder temperatures and physical exertion increases the workload on the heart.” The AHA suggests that you don’t eat a heavy meal or drink alcohol before shoveling, and advises that you take frequent breaks and use a smaller shovel. According to the AHA, if you experience discomfort in the chest or other upper-body areas (arms, back, neck, jaw, or stomach), shortness of breath, cold sweat, nausea, or lightheadedness, you could be having a heart attack.
And, as always, remember to breathe. “Researchers have pointed out that shovelers hold their breath when they bend down, which can lead to a sudden change in heart rate,” Slate notes. “Shoveling is an intense, rapid exercise that may result in a blood pressure spike. Cold weather, in itself, increases the risk of heart attack, since the shoveler expends energy just to keep warm and may have more trouble breathing.”
Hey, you could always call the plow.