Recent news has exploded about the risk of a heart attack while shoveling snow for the over 50’s due to the stress on the system. Annual deaths globally due to this are thought to be in the thousands.
Shoveling heavy snow causes a rapid increase in blood pressure and of course your heart rate, but with the combined effect of ice cold air causes constriction or narrowing of the blood vessels resulting in a decrease of oxygen to your heart. The heart has to work much harder, which can result in a potentially fatal heart attack. This is made worse if you just woke up or ate a heavy meal, as the blood is redirected away from the hear to the stomach to aid digestion.
- Because of the reverse leverage of a long snow shovel, you can exert 8kg of force to move only 3kg of snow
- A 50 meter household driveway may have 2 tonnes of medium snow to shift
- Snow can weigh 450kg per cubic meter!
- Clearing snow burns 500 calories per hour, which is the same as a 45 min run at 8kmh
Who is at risk?
Individuals who are at risk of a heart attack during cold outdoor activities include:
- People aged over 50
- People with weight problems
- Those who lead an inactive lifestyle
- People with high blood pressure / high cholesterol
- Past victims of heart attack
- People with known heart disease
Avoid heart attacks by…
Before You Shovel Snow
- Do not eat a heavy meal before shoveling because blood gets redirected away from the heart to the stomach to aid digestion
- Avoid shoveling after resting or sleeping as most heart attacks occur early in the morning when blood is more prone to clotting. Warm up for at least 30 minutes by a brisk walk or similar activity to warm up
- Do not drink coffee or smoke for at least one hour before or one hour after shoveling or during snow clearing breaks because they are stimulants and elevate your blood pressure and heart rate
- Warming up with physical activity including sexual activity is likely to reduce blood pressure as it opens up the arteries and lowers blood pressure.
During Snow Shoveling
- Make sure someone knows where you are while outside, so they keep an eye out for you
- Use a small shovel, moving lots of small loads of fewer heavy ones
- Begin slowly and take frequent, 10-minute breaks or when tired
- Drink plenty of warm water to avoid dehydration
- Dress in layers, to avoid hypothermia (low body temperature) or overheating
- Cover your head and neck (50% body heat lost thru head and neck)
- Cover your mouth to avoid breathing cold air, which can trigger angina and breathing problems
- Watch for warning signs of a heart attack, light-headedness, dizziness, shortage of breath, or tightness or burning in chest, neck, arms or back.
- If you think you are suffering a heart attack, call 112
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