Why Snow Shovelling is Dangerous for the Heart

by Sharon Hopkins


Doctors caution that those with heart disease should follow their physician’s advice before activities such as snow shovelling. It is also important to dress warmly and keep a steady pace while engaging in any hard work outdoors. Since the body is already working harder than usual to stay warm, it is imperative that there is no added strain on it.

How Winter Affects your Heart

There are many possible reasons why heart attacks occur more commonly in wintertime. The cold weather may increase strain on the heart and those with pre-existing heart disorders or high blood pressure may feel this strain even more. In the winter months the ratio of daylight and dark hours also changes and this may affect the hormonal balance of hormones such as cortisol, which in turn can increase the risk of heart problems. Cold weather can also lead the arteries to contract, thereby affecting blood flow and oxygen supply to the heart.

Studies show that heart attacks seem to take place more often in the mornings. There is usually a rise in blood pressure during the early morning hours in most people. This coupled with the fact that people prefer to do outdoor chores such as yard work in the mornings because of fewer daylight hours, can potentially increase the risk of a heart attack and heart problems. The normal variations in bodily rhythm that occur in the mornings may increase due to increased physical activity during those early hours. In some cases, sudden and intense exertion in colder temperatures can lead to sudden cardiac failure.

Besides snow shovelling, activities that can add considerable strain to your heart include snow boarding, walking in heavy snow and cross-country skiing. These types of activities can lead to sudden elevation in blood pressure and heart rate. The arteries may also tighten and lower the oxygen supply to the heart.  For those who are in good physical shape, this may not have such an adverse effect, but those at risk for heart disease or those in poor health do need to be careful.

Who is at Risk

People who may be at risk for a heart attack while engaging in outdoor work during winter include:

  • People who have had previous heart attacks
  • People with existing heart disease
  • People with high blood pressure
  • People with high cholesterol levels
  • Those who smoke
  • Those who live mostly sedentary lifestyles

It is important for such people to talk to their doctor before doing any kind of strenuous work in cold weather.

Ways to Protect your Heart in Winter

If you do decide to shovel snow, here are some helpful tips to keep in mind:

  • Consult your doctor before you begin
  • Do not begin work soon after you wake up, as during this time the blood is more likely to clot. Wait for about an hour and warm up before starting.
  • Eat lightly before shovelling so that your blood supply is not diverted towards digestion and away from your heart
  • Warm up your body by walking for a few minutes
  • Avoid drinking coffee for an hour before and after shovelling.
  • Avoid smoking before and after shovelling and also during breaks from work. Both coffee and nicotine raise blood pressure.
  • Use a small shovel instead of a heavy one
  • Take frequent breaks
  • Drink water frequently to prevent dehydration
  • Dress warmly, in layers preferably, to keep your body temperature steady
  • Keep your neck and head covered to avoid losing body heat
  • Avoid breathing in cold air by covering your mouth

In case you start to feel uncomfortable or experience any symptoms of a heart attack, call 911 immediately.

Reference:

  1. http://www.bt.cdc.gov/disasters/winter/duringstorm/outdoorsafety.asp

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