The area’s biggest snowstorm so far this year occurred over the weekend, and while outside may look like a winter wonderland, it could create a perfect storm for cardiac arrest. Shoveling can be a dangerous activity, causing approximately 100 deaths each winter.
“Most people underestimate how much shoveling can strain the heart,” said cardiologist Dr. Harry Cohen of CardioMedical Associates in Chicago. “It can be especially dangerous for those who have or are at risk for heart disease.”
Shoveling, or pushing a heavy snow blower, can cause a sudden increase in blood pressure and heart rate while the cold air constricts blood vessels and decreases the flow of oxygen to the heart. Together, these two factors can trigger a potentially fatal heart attack. Those who have suffered a prior heart attack, smoke, lead a sedentary lifestyle or have a heart disease, high blood pressure or high cholesterol have an increased risk.
Dr. Cohen advises against shoveling if you have a history of heart disease, and he advises everyone to be aware of the dangers of shoveling.
“Enjoy your day off and stay indoors instead of shoveling,” Dr. Cohen said. If you must shovel, check out these tips from the National Safety Council for safe, heart healthy shoveling.
- Talk to your doctor and make sure it’s safe for you to shovel
- Wait to shovel at least 30 minutes after waking up
- Warm up muscles before shoveling by walking for a few minutes or marching in place.
- Do not eat a heavy meal before shoveling
- Do not drink coffee or smoke for at least one hour before or one hour after shoveling
- Only shovel fresh, powdery snow as it is lighter
- Push snow instead of lifting it. If you do lift it, use a small shovel and lift with your legs, not your back
- Do not work to the point of exhaustion. Work slowly and take frequent, 15-minute breaks
- Drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration
- Dress in layers and make sure your head, neck and mouth are covered
- Watch for signs of a heart attack: lightheadedness, dizziness, shortness of breath, tightness or burning in chest/neck/arms/back. If you think you are having a heart attack, call 911.
Since heart disease continues to be the largest health problem, statistically, facing both men and women, Dr. Cohen is a strong advocate for the practice of preventive cardiology and believes that individuals with a family history of heart disease should begin cardiologic examinations, and embrace a heart-healthy lifestyle, while still in their twenties to prevent significant heart problems later in life.
Submitted by CardioMedical Associates, Ltd.