Snow Shoveling & Your Heart
Shoveling snow is hard work and causes stress on the heart, including elevated blood pressure. Each shovel load of snow can average 16 pounds. When you clear a sidewalk or driveway, all those shovels full of snow – each at about 16 pounds! – adds up to a lot of strenuous activity for someone who may have underlying cardiovascular disease or who is often sedentary. Shoveling snow can cause someone to have a heart attack who was already at high risk of having one. It can also trigger a heart attack in someone who has cardiovascular disease but who otherwise was not at immediate risk heart attack. If you have been diagnosed with cardiovascular disease or have risk factors such as high blood pressure or diabetes, talk with your doctor about shoveling safety, and avoid extremes of temperature. Even if you are not aware of any cardiovascular problems, shovel with caution. Be sure to wear warm layers, stay hydrated with water, and take lots of breaks. For more info, WATCH this video, where SecondsCount Editor and nurse practitioner Rena L. Silver, MSN, APN, CNP, discusses the special risks posed by snow shoveling and precautions to take.
When It Gets Really Cold ...
When temperatures drop, the heart has to work harder to help maintain your body’s core temperature. In fact, according to the American Heart Association, heart failure is the cause of most deaths from hypothermia - a dangerous condition in which the body’s temperature falls below normal.
While researchers aren’t exactly sure why, cold temperatures increase heart attack risk, too. Part of the reason might be that walking through heavy snow or lifting shovels full of snow can be unexpectedly strenuous work for anyone who only does those tasks occasionally. Some researchers think cold weather may influence the human body in other ways (such as hormones or blood vessel constriction) to also increase the likelihood of a heart attack.
Very cold weather is particularly dangerous for people with heart disease. This applies to babies and young children with complex congenital heart conditions as well.
Even if you do not have known heart disease, be sure to bundle up with layers of clothes when going outside, wear a hat to reduce heat loss from your head, and to go slowly when shoveling or doing other physically challenging tasks. If you know you have heart disease, the same warnings apply, but much more strongly. Before cold weather strikes, ask your doctor about safe levels of exposure to the cold and which activities should be left to someone without heart disease.
Symptoms to Watch For
Hypothermia and heart attack are both medical emergencies. If you suspect either, dial 9-1-1 immediately.
Heart attack symptoms
- Chest discomfort (Remember: not all people with heart attacks have chest pain.)
- Pain or discomfortin one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach
- Shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort
- Breaking out in a cold sweat, or feeling nauseous orlightheaded
- Exhaustion or drowsiness
- Memory loss
- Fumbling hands
- Slurred speech