Many people dream of a white Christmas. But then, after Christmas, we’re left with a lot of snow to shovel! That’s not just a chore. It can put a significant toll on your body. Your muscles get a big workout when you’re shoveling snow. There is one muscle you have to take care of in the winter: your heart.
Shoveling snow can cause heart attacks and sudden cardiac arrest. The American Heart Association (AHA) warns that it can happen to people with known heart conditions and folks who are unaware that they have heart problems.
“Shoveling snow is a very strenuous activity, made even more so by the impact that cold temperatures have on your body, increasing the blood pressure while simultaneously constricting the coronary arteries. It really is a ‘perfect storm’ for acute cardiac events,” said Prof. Barry Franklin in an AHA news release. He is the lead author of an AHA scientific statement on exercise-related heart risks.
Prof. Franklin continued, “Among the many findings of our research, we saw that the cardiac demands of heavy snow shoveling, including marked increases in the heart rate and systolic blood pressure, could equal and exceed the upper levels achieved during maximal treadmill testing in sedentary men.”
To many of us, shoveling our cars out after a storm just seems like a winter task. It’s like cleaning the gutters: it’s a seasonal job we just do. But it’s a strenuous workout that we aren’t used to. It also gets a little harder every year! As we age, these things become more difficult. We all think of shoveling snow as time-consuming rather than hard because that might have been true in years past. But, if you don’t exercise much during the year and then throw yourself into a full workout, you can pay a steep price. Especially as you get older.
Prof. Franklin also warns that automatic snow blowers aren’t an easy fix. The force needed to push them can quickly raise heart rate blood pressure. They can be a good fit for some people but aren’t a magic bullet. He suggests that pushing snow with your shovel rather than the “lift and throw” method is easiest on your body, and you should take breaks. We recommend reaching out to neighbors and teenagers in your life for assistance.
Winter mornings have an uncommonly high number of heart attacks associated with them. The risk of having a heart attack in winter is twice as high as in summer overall. And, in winter, they are more likely to be fatal. That could be for many reasons, including that it might be more challenging to get to a hospital quickly in the winter. The flu, common at this time of year, also puts you at risk of a heart attack. And, sudden exposure to the cold can impact the diameter of your blood vessels.
All in all, be sure to look out for year heart health this winter. Ask for help with clearing your snow. And speak to your doctor about your heart concerns to ensure you are taking care of yourself!