Tips for safer snow shoveling

E-mail from the American Heart Association:

American Heart Association offers tips for SAFE snow shoveling
Studies show a link between shoveling snow and heart attack

(INDIANAPOLIS, December 26, 2009) While Hoosiers have experienced a relatively calm winter so far, a major snowfall can’t be far behind. The American Heart Association warns that for some people shoveling snow can lead to a fatal heart attack. The risk of a heart attack during snow shoveling increases for those who are middle-aged or older, people who lead a sedentary lifestyle, and people who have been diagnosed with a heart condition. The American Heart Association encourages these people to take extra precautions when snow shoveling.

One of the reasons heart attacks can occur during snow shoveling is the combination of colder temperatures and physical exertion. Cold weather places an additional strain on the heart when the body is working to keep warm. As people get older, they become less sensitive to the cold and may be less aware of the stress their hearts are under. The combination of sudden physical effort and cold weather increases the workload for the heart. As a result, too much strain on the heart during these conditions can cause a heart attack.

Researchers have found that the heart rate and blood pressure responses to shoveling heavy, wet snow often approached and exceeded the same responses during maximum exercise testing. Within two minutes, many subjects can exceed their upper heart rate limit for aerobic exercise training. Studies have shown a link between snow shoveling and heart attack. One study estimated that as many as 1,200 people nationwide die annually of coronary artery disease during and after major snowstorms. Another study, which was conducted at William Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Mich., showed a dramatic rise in heart attacks during and after major snowstorms.

The American Heart Association offers the following tips for safer snow shoveling:

  • Consult a doctor. If you have a medical condition or don’t exercise on a regular basis or are middle aged or older, schedule a meeting with your doctor prior to the first anticipated snowfall.
  • Give yourself a break. Take frequent rest breaks during shoveling so you don’t overstress your heart. Pay attention to how your body feels during those breaks.
  • Don’t eat a heavy meal prior to shoveling. Eating a large meal can put an extra load on your heart.
  • Don’t drink alcoholic beverages before shoveling. Alcohol may increase a person’s sensation of warmth and may cause them to underestimate the extra strain their body is under in the cold.
  • Be aware of the dangers of hypothermia. Heart failure causes most deaths in hypothermia. To prevent hypothermia, dress in layers of warm clothing, which traps air between layers forming a protective insulation. Wear a hat because much of your body’s heat can be lost through your head.
  • Use a small shovel. The act of lifting heavy snow can raise blood pressure acutely during the lift. It is safer to lift smaller amounts more times, than to lift a few huge shovelfuls of snow.
  • Listen to your body. If you feel the warning signs for heart attack, stop what you’re doing immediately and call 9-1-1.

Heart Attack Warning Signs:

  • Chest discomfort. Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes, or that goes away and comes back. It can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain.
  • Discomfort in other areas of the upper body. Symptoms can include pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw, or stomach.
  • Shortness of breath. This feeling often comes along with chest discomfort, but shortness of breath can occur before the chest discomfort.
  • Other signs. These may include breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea, or light-headedness.

The American Heart Association also reminds the public that people who suffer cardiac arrest need CPR immediately, or they’re unlikely to survive more than 10 to 12 minutes. As temperatures drop, the American Heart Association encourages you to learn to save a life with Family & Friends CPR Anytime. The program is designed to be used at home and takes less than 30 minutes to learn. Everything needed to learn CPR comes in one kit — inflatable manikin, instructional DVD and resource booklet. Multiple family members can use one CPR Anytime kit, so for less than $30 everyone can be prepared to save a life. For more information about ordering, visit or call (877) 242-4277.


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