If you happen to live in an area where snow is the norm for winter, then shoveling snow is something you’ve probably grown accustomed to. However, there are hidden dangers that you should be aware of when participating in this seemingly harmless activity.
According to BBC news, approximately 100 people die in the U.S. while shoveling snow every winter. The American Heart Association says that the risk of a heart attack while shoveling snow may increase for some due to the combination of colder temperatures and physical exertion. If you’re in poor physical condition, have heart disease or have a history of stroke, the risk is even higher.
Blood vessels are tighter in the cold weather, making it harder for blood to pass through them. Those who are outdoors in the cold should avoid sudden exertion. Lifting a shovel full of snow and even walking through wet, heavy snow can put strain on a person’s heart.
Cardiologist Barry Franklin, who’s an expert in the hazardous effects of snow removal, found that when healthy young men shoveled snow, their heart rate and blood pressure increased more than when they exercised on a treadmill. “Combine this with cold air, which causes arteries to constrict and decrease blood supply, you have a perfect storm for a heart attack,” he says. Mr. Franklin goes on to say that “Snow shoveling is particularly strenuous because it uses arm work, which is more taxing than leg work. Straining to move wet and heavy snow is particularly likely to cause a surge in heart rate and blood pressure.”
To lessen the risk of heart attack, the AHA recommends taking frequent breaks in between shoveling, not eating a heavy meal before or soon after shoveling and using a small shovel or even a snow blower. All of the above lessens the strain on the heart. The AHA also recommends not drinking alcohol prior to shoveling since alcohol increases a person’s sensation of warmth and may cause them to underestimate the extra strain their body is under. Finally, know the symptoms of a heart attack and the dangers of hypothermia. Heart attack symptoms may include chest/upper body discomfort, shortness of breath, nausea, dizziness or none of the above. To prevent hypothermia, dress in layers of warm clothing. Layers trap air which forms a protective insulation. Also, wear a hat since much of your body heat escapes through your head.
NOTE: Make sure you get medical clearance before participating in any physically exerting activity. If you feel any pain or discomfort, contact your health care provider or call 9-1-1.