That thick blanket of snow outside your door is picturesque, but you’ll eventually have to remove it from your walkways and driveway if you plan to go anywhere, receive mail and deliveries, and prevent hazards. For people who are used to getting their blood pumping through regular cardiovascular fitness regimens, shoveling snow may not pose a significant problem. Sore muscles and an aching back are likely to be their only complaints. The real snow removal hazard is for people who rarely exercise. That’s why it’s important to know what to watch for, and how to avoid putting your heart in danger.
The Double Jeopardy of Snow Removal
Moving hundreds of pounds of snow in cold weather can attack your heart in two ways. First, shoveling snow and even pushing a snow blower can be more strenuous than a workout on a treadmill. If you’re not used to getting your heart rate up for extended periods of time, that level of activity can put a big strain on your ticker. And second, the combination of doing all that exercise in colder temperatures raises blood pressure even further, interrupts blood flow to the heart, and can make blood more likely to form dangerous clots.
Who’s Most at Risk
Men aged 55 and older, take note. You’re in the population group with the greatest risk of suffering a heart attack during or after shoveling snow. A study published in the Journal of Emergency Medicine revealed that patients 55 years of age and older were 4.25 times more likely than younger patients to experience cardiac-related symptoms while shoveling snow. And men were twice as likely as women to exhibit cardiac-related symptoms.
Signs of a Heart Attack
Here’s how to help distinguish plain old sore muscles from signs you may be having a heart attack. Common symptoms of a heart attack include:
- a squeezing pain in the chest
- shortness of breath
- pain that radiates up to the left shoulder and down the left arm
- a cold sweat
- jaw pain
- lower back pain
- unexplained fatigue
If you experience any of these symptoms during or after snow removal (even if you were just pushing a snow blower) you should seek medical attention right away. If you’re not sure it’s a heart attack, have it checked out anyway.
Heart-Healthy Snow Removal
There are many things you can do to help prevent a cardiac event while removing snow. The American Heart Association recommends that you:
- Take frequent rest breaks
- Don’t eat a heavy meal prior or soon after shoveling.
- Use a small shovel or consider a snow thrower
- Learn the heart attack warning signs and listen to your body
- Don’t drink alcoholic beverages before or immediately after shoveling
- Dress in layers of warm clothing
- Wear a hat
Recent cardiac patients should also be sure to ask their doctor about what type of activity they can do prior to attempting any type of snow removal. It’s also a good idea for you and others in your home to know CPR. Bystander CPR can be the crucial difference in saving a life. Don’t take chances with your heart. Know the signs of a potential problem and when in doubt, call 911 and seek medical help immediately.