Don’t Make Shoveling a Marathon Event

Contributed by Cindy Bouma, Communications Director – American Heart Association, Midwest Affiliate
Cindy.Bouma@heart.org

snow shovelingMICHIGAN- With winter snowfall looming, area residents will need to clear out their driveways and sidewalks. The American Heart Association warns that for most people, shoveling snow may not lead to health problems, however, the risk of a heart attack during snow shoveling increases for others

One of the reasons heart attacks can occur during snow shoveling is the combination of colder temperatures and physical exertion which increases the workload on the heart. As a result, too much strain on the heart during these conditions can cause a heart attack. For some people, walking through heavy or wet snow is enough to strain the heart.

Because heart attacks can start mildly, people who expect to be shoveling or trudging through snow banks should always be cautious to protect their health.

To help make snow removal safer, consider the following tips.

  • Consult a doctor. If you have a medical condition or don’t exercise on a regular basis, schedule a meeting with your doctor prior to the first anticipated snowfall.
  • Take frequent breaks during shoveling so you don’t overstress your heart.
  • Don’t eat a heavy meal prior or soon after shoveling since it can place an extra load on your heart.
  • Don’t drink alcoholic beverages before or immediately after 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. Wear a hat and dress in layers of warm clothing, which traps air between layers forming a protective insulation. Besides cold temperatures, high winds, snow and rain also can steal body heat. Wind is especially dangerous, because it removes the layer of heated air from around your body. At 30 degrees Fahrenheit in a 30-mile per hour wind, the cooling effect is equal to 15 degrees Fahrenheit. Similarly, dampness causes the body to lose heat faster than it would at the same temperature in drier conditions. Wear a hat or head scarf. Heat can be lost through your head. And ears are especially prone to frostbite. Keep your hands and feet warm, too, as they tend to lose heat rapidly.
  • Use a small shovel or consider a snow thrower. Lifting heavy snow can raise blood pressure acutely. It is safer to lift smaller amounts more times, than to lug a few huge shovelfuls of snow. When possible, simply push the snow.
  • Listen to your body. If you feel the warning signs for heart attack, stop what you’re doing immediately and call 911. Carry your cell phone in your pocket and call 911 immediately if you experience any signs of a heart attack.

The warning signs of a heart attack include:

  • Uncomfortable pressure, fullness, squeezing or pain in the center of the chest that lasts for more than a few minutes, or goes away and comes back.
  • Pain spreading to the shoulders, neck and arms.
  • Chest discomfort with lightheadedness, fainting, sweating, nausea or shortness of breath.

A heart attack is a condition in which a blood clot suddenly blocks a coronary artery, resulting in the death of heart muscle supplied by that artery.  Heart attack victims usually experience chest pain and usually remain conscious.  Heart attacks are serious and sometimes lead to sudden cardiac arrest, but they are not the same.

Sudden cardiac arrest is a condition in which the heartbeat stops abruptly and unexpectedly.  All of its causes are not known, but it can result from a heart attack, respiratory arrest, electrocution, drowning, choking, trauma, or it can have no known cause.  Sudden cardiac arrest may occur independently from a heart attack and without warning signs.  Sudden cardiac arrest results in death if not treated immediately.

Learn CPR. If you see someone who has gone into sudden cardiac arrest, effective bystander CPR, provided immediately after sudden cardiac arrest, can double or triple a victim’s chance of survival. Hands-only CPR makes it easier than ever to save a life. If an adult suddenly collapses, call 911 and begin pushing hard and fast in the middle of the victim’s chest until help arrives.