Medical Mythbuster: Shoveling Snow Can Cause a Heart Attack

This is frighteningly true for some people, especially those living with heart disease or other cardiovascular issues. Living in New England, we are all too familiar with shoveling out after a snowstorm. Unfortunately, when you combine the heavy exertion of shoveling snow with cold outside air temperatures, it can increase the chance of a heart attack occurring.

Shoveling snow, especially heavy snow, places significant demands on our cardiovascular system. Just a few minutes of shoveling snow can push the heart to exceed its maximum heart rate, especially for those who are less physically fit and not used to exercise. A higher heart rate is just one reason why shoveling snow can be dangerous. Cold outdoor temperatures can also increase blood pressure, while simultaneously constricting the coronary arteries. Taken together, these factors can significantly increase the risk for a heart attack.

Those with pre-existing cardiovascular conditions need to be especially cautious about any snow shoveling. If you are over 45 years of age, or have had any kind of heart condition, you should ask your doctor if shoveling snow is something you should avoid. Keep in mind that pushing a snow blower, much like shoveling snow, can also raise your heart rate and blood pressure quickly.

If you feel you are healthy enough to shovel snow, it’s important to take short breaks for rest. It’s also safer to push snow with a shovel since it is less strenuous than lifting and throwing it.

When shoveling, always be aware of the symptoms of a heart attack. Stop your activity and seek help immediately if you feel any chest pain or pressure. You can learn more about the common symptoms of a heart attack here.

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