So What Is It About Snow Shoveling
Very few studies have examined the physiology of snow shoveling because it is technically difficult to do so. We do know that the cardiovascular demands of snow shoveling are very high. In fact it rivals the demands during maximal exercise testing, such as a cardiac stress test on a treadmill or bicycle, which often exceed 80-90 percent of your maximal exercise tolerance.
There are two aspects of snow shoveling that make it unusual for the heart compared to, for example, walking or jogging.
First and obviously, it is typically performed in cold weather. Cold air inhalation may cause a reflex constriction of blood vessels, including the coronary arteries. Cold air may also increase the bloods propensity for clotting. If blood clots form and there is a tear in the inside of the artery, a blood clot could form a blockage.
The second issue is the nature of the exerciseand snow shoveling is unique. It is typically done without a warm up, and includes considerable arm work that increases blood pressure drastically. As blood pressure rises, so too does the work of the heart. Meanwhile, your leg muscles are typically performing isometric work . This type of muscle activity, especially in the upper body , raises blood pressure more than, say, walking or jogging.
Corey Templeton, CC BY-NC-ND
How Can I Prevent Injuries
Despite the dangers, itâs still important to clear snow and ice from around your house in the event you need to evacuate. If you need to clean a path, can you do it safely?
The first step is to be honest with yourself. Can you handle clearing away the snow? If youâre a senior or have had heart issues in the past, the answer may be no. If youâre not in the right shape to be shoveling snow, recruit a neighbor or family member. Your loved ones may grumble while they work, but they wouldnât want you to put yourself in danger.
If youâre well enough to take on the elements, there are a few ways to avoid injury or heart attack. Before heading outside, dress warm and wear winter boots to prevent slips. Stretching and a light warm-up exercise is also wise since both can prevent muscle strains.
When you begin shoveling, donât just start lifting snow. Thereâs a correct way to shovel snow!
When itâs time begin shoveling, donât just start lifting snow and tossing it aside. Thereâs a correct way to shovel snow.
First, instead of lifting right away, like youâre digging a hole, push the snow. When it comes time to toss the shoveled snow, lift with your legs. Keep a good lifting technique to ensure you donât hurt your back. If you begin feeling tired, take a break. Donât push yourself, because this added strain can get you into trouble. Also, if youâre able, try shoveling while itâs still snowing and thereâs less on the ground.
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Muscle Aches Can Mask Heart Attack Symptoms
Regardless of your fitness level or experience, its not uncommon to feel a little sore after shoveling. Pain in the chest, arms or back could be a result of muscle strainor it could be the warning symptoms of a heart attack. Many people are quick to dismiss the symptoms of a heart attack and delay calling 911, especially women, says Dr. Mathur. But if you notice symptoms like chest pain or pain in your neck, arms, jaw or back, dont shrug it off.
If your symptoms persist or if theyre accompanied by shortness of breath, nausea, fatigue, or lightheadedness, call 911 immediately.
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Shoveling Snow Burns Tons Of Calories
If youre up for the physical task of shoveling snow, it can be a real calorie burner. According to Harvard Medical School, a 125-pound person shoveling by hand can burn up to 180 calories in 30 minutes. If the snow is coming down and youre shoveling several times during the storm, the calories burned shoveling snow can add up pretty quickly! Next, check out 50 ways to have the healthiest holiday season yet.
- The American Journal of Emergency Medicine: “Snow shovel-related injuries and medical emergencies treated in US EDs, 1990 to 2006.”
- Shoeb Sitafalwalla, MD, cardiologist at the Advocate Heart Institute at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, Illinois
- Stephen Kopecky, MD, professor of medicine at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota
- Harvard Medical School: “Calories burned in 30 minutes for people of three different weights”
Why Snow Shoveling Is So Dangerous
Thousands of Americans end up in the hospital each year due to injuries from snow shoveling. How can you stay safe after the storm?
Whether youâre dealing with a light dusting or a blizzard, cleaning up snow can be a pain. Itâs an everyday chore thatâs deceptively dangerous. Every year, more than 100 people die shoveling snow in the U.S. Thatâs over 10 times more people than those who die due to sharks worldwide, bears in North America, and wolves in North America.
Even if it doesnât kill you, 11,500 Americans end up in the hospital each year because of snow shoveling injuries.
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Shoveling Snow Can Be Dangerous For Your Heart
A few years ago, John Menley had just eaten dinner when he felt what he thought was indigestion. He propped up his feet for a while, but decided to just sleep it off. The next morning, that feeling came back.
This time, as snow was falling, he took his wifes advice and went to the hospital. But first, before driving himself, he decided to shovel.
Me being the dude that I am, I grabbed the shovel, shoveled off the sidewalk and driveway approach, Menley said in 2016. I dug out the minivan and cleared it off and was ready to go. My wife has mobility issues, so if I had to stay in the hospital, how would she have managed?
Snow shoveling can make people forget their abilities. For someone who doesnt normally work out, the physical exertion along with the cold can quickly lead to heart trouble.
Each winter during and after snow storms, we tend to see people coming to the ER for chest pain and many of them mention shoveling before they felt symptoms, said Dr. Anthony Sonn, Mercy Clinic Heart and Vascular. Shoveling is definitely a workout.
After dropping his wife off at the emergency room and then parking, Menley finally made it to the hospital.
The nurse knew the situation by the time I made it inside, so she threw me in a wheelchair immediately, Menley joked. Thirty five minutes later I was on the cath lab table being told I had a 90 percent blockage.
Why Shoveling Snow Can Provoke A Heart Attack
One of the major reasons shoveling snow can lead to a heart attack is that people tend to hold their breath on exertionsuch as lifting heavy shovelfuls of snow. Breath holding slams the diaphragm right up into the heart, squeezing it and impeding blood flow. This is known as a “Valsalva maneuver.”
Another reason why snow shoveling can lead to a heart attack is that its an activity we do when its cold outside. Exercising in the cold can cause your blood vessels to constrict and raise your blood pressureeven provoking coronary artery spasms. Plus, if youre rushing to get your driveway cleared so you can leave to go to work, the stress can up your heart attack risk even further.Breathing in really cold air can be quite provocative for the coronary arteries. For instance, my wife Jan once worked with a 45-year-old cardiac rehab patient who had suffered a heart attack while working in a freezer. His coronary arteries had no blockages, so the damage had been done by prolonged arterial spasm provoked by extremely cold air. He had to sell his beloved New England farm and move to a warmer climate.We also find that people who are normally sedentary are at higher risk of a heart attack while shoveling snow than those who exercise regularly. In two studies published in the New England Journal of Medicine, 1,000 patients were interviewed soon after they were hospitalized for a heart attack to determine what their activities were during the hour before the onset of their symptoms.
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Heart Attack Trigger: Having A Drink
While a daily glass of wine might be good for your heart long-term, the short term effect may be just the opposite. Although your heart attack risk decreases by about 14% within 24 hours of drinking alcohol, the first hour after that drink could be dangerous. A study in Epidemiology found that the likelihood of a heart attack soared by a frightening 72% during the first hour after drinking. The reason isnt clear, but speculation is that it might be due to increased blood pressure and a greater likelihood of clots.
Shoveling Is Strenuous Exercise
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 isnt 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 youve been more sedentary than usual in the winter months.
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Can You Have A Heart Attack And Feel Fine
A silent heart attack, also called a silent Ischemia, is a heart attack that has either no symptoms, minimal symptoms or unrecognized symptoms. A heart attack is not always as obvious as pain in your chest, shortness of breath and cold sweats. In fact, a heart attack can actually happen without a person knowing it.
A Special Note For Women
Women often under-recognize their heart attack symptoms. They might get the typical chest pain, but they often experience different signs than men, including a fluttering sensation in the chest, flu-like symptoms and pain in the back, shoulder or jaw. Read important information about how cardiovascular symptoms are different in women.
Avoid shoveling if youve had heart treatments, such as stents or bypass surgery.
Youre also at higher risk for a heart episode at any age while shoveling if you:
Your body will usually send you a signal that something is awry. It could be subtle or dramatic like fatigue or shortness of breath that is out of proportion with your level of physical activity, Dr. Magorien says.
Stop shoveling immediately if you experience any of the above symptoms.
If after three to four minutes your breathing is still off, your chest is tight or youre still dizzy, chew an aspirin and call 911. Its vital that paramedics immediately evaluate you and do an EKG to determine whether youre having a heart attack.
If youre feeling pretty good after a few minutes, play it safe and take an aspirin and call your physician to set up an appointment. Sometimes an episode like this can be a red flag that you have a blockage somewhere.
Give your body time to wake up
Its not a race take it slow
Get water first
Skip that big cup o Joe and the cigarette
Dress in layers
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Shoveling Snow And Heart Attacks
With winter comes snow, sometimes a lot. While many people may find shoveling the inches or feet of snow off the driveway and sidewalk a dreaded activity, its also an activity that should be done with caution.
Studies show that people who have heart disease should avoid shoveling snow. Why? The exertion of shoveling snow can induce the rupturing of a stable cholesterol plaque in patients with heart health concerns, explained Ahmad Daraghmeh, MD, FACC, a cardiologist with Trinity Health.
A Harvard study estimates that roughly 100 people die during or just after shoveling snow each year in the United States, and more are admitted to the hospital with chest pain or other heart problems. A correlation was discovered that hospital admissions and deaths due to heart attack occurred the day after it snowed in Canada during the years 1981 to 2014.
According to the studies, this tends to happen more in colder states . The extreme cold with extreme exercise can put a burden on a stable cholesterol plaque coupled with vascular spasm that may cause instability and rupturing of that plaque, leading to a heart attack, Dr. Daraghmeh said, warning that people with documented cases of coronary artery disease need to be cautious.
The most common symptom of coronary artery disease is angina-like chest pain or discomfort, which occurs when too much plaque builds up inside arteries, causing them to narrow.
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Whats So Deadly About Shoveling Snow
The most significant danger of snow shoveling is the strain it puts on your heart which can trigger a heart attack. Studies have shown that even using a heavy snow blower can be dangerous. The fact is that shoveling snow is very hard work. In shape or not, shoveling is incredibly strenuous and puts you at risk of heart attack.
In shape or not, shoveling is incredibly strenuous and puts you at risk of heart attack.
Beyond fitness, the cold adds to the threat. Cold air can constrict blood vessels and decrease the amount of oxygen in the heart. Combine this with the strain of shoveling and you have a heart attack cocktail. If youâre older or have previous heart issues, youâre even more likely to succumb to heart issues due to snow removal.
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Dont Eat A Big Meal Before Shoveling Snow
Your gut will demand more blood to digest food, so you have less available for your heart. This adds more strain to an already strained system, Dr. Sitafalwalla says. Dont shovel when youve been drinking, either: People may think the alcohol will warm them up, but the liquor is actually constricting the blood vessels, creating more back pressure on the heart.
Should You Shovel Snow Know Your Risk Of Heart Attack And Injury Before You Start
Every major snowstorm unfortunately sends two categories of people to seek medical care: those who suffer heart attacks and those who sustain orthopedic injuries.
Make no mistake: Shoveling lots of wet, heavy snow the kind that was on the ground Thursday after that fluffier snow got rained on can kill you.
Officials in Howard County reported Thursday night that two men in their 50s died after collapsing while shoveling snow, and a third man was found dead outside his home but it was not clear if he was working in the snow.
Shoveling snow is a significant physical effort, said John G. Harold, president of the American College of Cardiology. Patients who have known coronary disease under management and treatment are obviously a group that would be advised not to shovel snow.
A second group consists of people with a variety of risk factors but no history of coronary disease. Smokers, anyone with a strong family history of heart disease and those with high blood pressure are some examples, Harold said. If you fit those categories and are middle-aged or older, take particular caution, he said. Across the population, more heart attacks occur in winter than in summer.
Its all about common sense and logic, and when you sense something is going wrong, dont force yourself through it, he said.
The most common, not surprisingly, are musculoskeletal strains, especially to the lower back, shoulders and knees.
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Cold Weather And Winter Activities: When Theyre A Recipe For Heart Attack Risk
Since the cardiovascular system doesnt work as well in cold temperatures, does that mean you should only exercise inside during the winter?
No. It just means that you should pay attention to your body when youre skiing, snowshoeing, sledding, skating or doing other activities that put additional strain on your heart. This is especially true when it comes to snow shoveling, an activity thats linked to many winter heart attacks.
Cold Weather Makes Your Heart Work Harder
When the weather is cold, your blood vessels constrict. This restricts oxygen and blood flow to the heart, which means your heart has to work harder to do its job. A few minutes in the cold might not put you at significant risk, but prolonged exposure to freezing temperatures coupled with restricted oxygen flow to the heart can be a dangerous combination and lead to a heart attack.
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Heart Attack Trigger: Taking Ibuprofen Or Naproxen
Although theyve been over-the-counter meds for years, the FDA now warns that these two drugs definitely raise your heart attack and stroke riskeven if youre perfectly healthy. No dose is truly safe, and the more often you take them the greater the risk.
These are all good reasons to look at some lifestyle changes. Slow down. De-stress. Eat and drink in moderation. And before you start taking a new prescription or OTC drug, make sure you ask about the risks, benefits, and side effects. Your heart will thank you.
Know The Warning Signs Of Heart Disease
There are several general warning signs of heart disease. If you notice any of the following, its important to consult a physician and avoid shoveling snow: 1) chest pain, which can also be described as a chest pressure, burning, or discomfort, which occurs upon exertion and calms down at rest 2) chest discomfort can often radiate to the arms, the neck, the back, and even the jaw, so that should be paid attention to as well, says Dr. Sitafalwalla and 3) severe or unusual shortness of breath is another warning sign of heart disease. 4) High blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes are also risk factors for pre-existing heart disease. Some women can feel all the above symptoms, but they can also feel none of them. For those who dont experience any telling symptoms, Dr. Sitafalwalla says to be aware if the person expresses a vague sense of anxiety, severe fatigue, or discomfort near their chest or heart. Here are 7 silent signs of a heart attack.