Yes, Shoveling Snow Can Actually Be Dangerous to Your Heart
Every year, snow shoveling sends more than 11,000 people to the hospital each year. Here’s what you need to know about clearing your snow if you have heart attack risk factors.
Waking up to find a thick layer of fresh, crisp snow covering your entire neighborhood can be breathtaking. But most of us are less-than-enthusiastic at the thought of shoveling a few inches (or perhaps a foot!) of snow from our driveways.
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But, before heading outdoors with shovel in hand, experts say it’s important to know that there’s a heightened risk for suffering a heart attack after shoveling heavy amounts of snow.
In fact, cardiologist Luke Laffin, MD, says many people underestimate just how strenuous snow-shoveling can actually be.
“Snow shoveling is very similar to being at ‘peak exercise’ on a stress test, so it puts a lot of strain on your heart,” he says. “And for someone who isn’t used to actually exercising and being physically fit, it can predispose them to heart attacks.”
Why is that? Too much exertion, too quickly, can trigger a heart attack —especially in the cold — when our arteries tend to constrict, which in turn, can drive up our blood pressure. Your risk also goes up if you’ve been more sedentary than usual in the winter months. (One more reason why you shouldn’t hibernate!)
Plan to (or need to) shovel anyway? Dr. Laffin says it’s important to take your time – don’t push yourself too hard. Try following these 5 tips:
If a loved one begins to show signs of heart trouble, or has trouble breathing after shoveling snow, call 9-1-1 immediately and seek medical care. If you’re not sure, it’s better to get it checked out.
If you have more than one medical condition or are over the age of 55, Dr. Laffin says it’s best to get someone else to shovel for you. It’s simply not worth the risk.
“Particularly people that have multiple medical conditions such as coronary artery disease or hypertension, or maybe they’re overweight or obese and don’t get a lot of physical activity – it’s not worth it to risk your heart,” he says.
“I think hiring the kid down the street to do it is a great idea,” Dr. Laffin says.