A couple of years ago a friend of mine was shoveling snow and thought his chest and shoulder pain were from his muscles doing an activity he hadn't done in a long time. He stopped and went inside and felt some relief. About 30 minutes later the pain came back with a vengeance and he began to sweat and felt nauseous. Thankfully, his wife called 9-1-1 and he is with us today because he received prompt attention for his heart attack.
Our cold, wet and snowy weather has been a reminder from Mother Nature that she is in control and that we need to be careful when cleaning up her stormy mess.
For starters, shoveling wet snow or pushing a heavy snow blower in cold weather is like running on a treadmill and lifting weights at the same time. This action alone (shoveling) can triple your risk for a heart attack!
Important Facts about Shoveling & Your Cardiac Health:
1. Each shovelful of wet snow weighs between 20-30 pounds. This is where the weight lifting component comes in. Especially for individuals who do not exercise regularly, shoveling heavy snow can temporarily and quickly raise blood pressure, leading to a greater risk of heart attack.
2. The act of shoveling is also a high intensity aerobic exercise which can increase heart rate. For those who are not in good shape, this activity can present some heart risk.
3. Being outside in the cold weather often causes the heart to work harder in order to supply oxygen filled blood to all areas of the body for warmth. Mix in high winds and damp weather and this can cause the body to lose even more heat, adding an additional workload onto the heart.
- Weekend warriors or couch potatoes not used to regular exercise
- Anyone who has had a previous heart attack
- Those with heart disease, high blood pressure, asthma, chronic bronchitis or emphysema, diabetes
Heart Health Tips for Before You Shovel
- Be sure to have regular check-ups and ask your doctor if shoveling snow is safe for your health.
- Avoid shoveling right after waking up as more heart attacks occur during the morning hours. Warm up first and wait at least an hour before you shovel.
- Do not eat a heavy meal prior to shoveling.
- Do not take energy pills or have caffeinated products prior to shoveling as they have the potential to elevate your heart rate and blood pressure.
- Cover your mouth with a cold weather mask. This is important because breathing very cold air, especially during exercising, can trigger breathing difficulties and put further strain on your heart.
Life Threat Rules
Always listen to your body and abide by the following rules:
- If you feel chest pain or unusual pain going into your shoulder, down your arm or into your neck – STOP WHAT YOU’RE DOING and get medical attention ASAP. Call 9-1-1.
- If you get dizzy, feel faint or nauseous, or begin to vomit, STOP and get medical attention ASAP. Call 9-1-1.
- If you think that you are having a heart attack, STOP and call 9-1-1.
It is better to be safe and ask the professionals than to suffer in silence. Please, never ignore potentially life-threatening symptoms.