When you think of dangerous winter activities, you probably wouldn’t consider shoveling snow to be on the list — but over 100 people die shoveling each year in the US. A study at the US Nationwide Children’s Hospital recorded 1,647 fatalities from cardiac-related injuries associated with shoveling snow from 1990 to 2006 .
Cardiologist Barry Franklin, director of preventative cardiology and cardiac rehabilitation at William Beaumont Hospital, Michigan, lead a team of researchers to study the effects of shoveling.
They found that when healthy young men shoveled snow, their heart rate and blood pressure increased more than when they exercised on a treadmill. “Combine this with cold air, which causes arteries to constrict and decrease blood supply, you have a perfect storm for a heart attack,” Franklin says.
A deadly combination:
- raises blood pressure and heart rate more than some other forms of exercise
- cold air constricts blood vessels
- cardiac risks are higher in early morning
- rare exercise for sedentary over-55s
“People at greatest risk are those who are habitually sedentary with known or suspected coronary disease, who go out once a year to clear snow,” Franklin says. Factors such as smoking and being overweight also drastically increase the risk.
Unfortunately, the snow’s not going to shovel itself.
Here’s how to stay safe while shoveling:
- Use a small shovel (many small loads instead of heavy ones)
- Dress in layers, covering head and neck
- Take regular breaks indoors
- Drink plenty of water
- Don’t eat or smoke before shoveling
- Watch for warning signs of a heart attack, lightheadedness, dizziness, being short of breath or if you have tightness or burning in chest, neck, arms or back. If you think you are having a heart attack call 911.