Know the Dangers.
Know the Dangers of Snow Shoveling
Every winter, we hear about Canadians who have heart attacks while clearing snow. But what exactly is so dangerous about shoveling the white stuff?
The main problem is that we tend to underestimate how physically demanding it is. Cardiologist Barry Franklin reported that 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,” Franklin says.
Why does such a seemingly innocent activity pose such a serious threat?
Any sudden exertion activities in cold weather can pose a threat, but snow shoveling poses a special danger because:
- It can can cause a surge in heart rate and blood pressure
- Cold air constricts blood vessels
- Cardiac risks are higher in early morning, which is prime time for snow clearing
- It can be rare exercise for otherwise sedentary individuals
- It requires arm work, which is more taxing than leg work
- Many people hold their breath during strenuous work, which further strains the body.
Shoveling- and even pushing a heavy snow blower- can cause a sudden increase in heart rate and a spike in blood pressure. And it not just the exercise itself that’s tough. The cold air can constrict blood vessels and decrease oxygen flow to the heart. Cold air also increases blood concentration of a protein called fibrinogen, which is involved in blood clotting. These factors all increase the heart’s workload and, when combined, can trigger a potentially fatal heart attack.
Individuals who are at high risk for a cardiac event while shoveling snow are individuals who:
- Have a history of heart attack or heart disease
- Have high blood pressure or high cholesterol
- Smoke cigarettes
- Lead a sedentary lifestyle
- Are obese
Dr. Robert Beanlands, chief of cardiology at the Ottawa Heart institute, believes shoveling can be one of the most dangerous activities for people with heart disease. Dr. Franklin, mentioned earlier, considers snow shoveling to be so dangerous that he warns anyone over the age of 55 not to do it.