Protect your heart while shoveling
For children, snow is magical and fun. For adults, snow becomes just another chore to add to the list. But unlike most other chores, snow shoveling can be deadly for those with heart disease.
In Chicago alone, 13 people died of heart attacks while shoveling snow after winter storm Jonas earlier this year. Six out of the 20 deaths from the severe storm that hit New York were linked to shoveling snow, where most experienced a heart attack dying with shovels in their hands, according to the New York Times.
“I advise my middle-aged patients to avoid shoveling snow, especially those with high blood pressure, heart disease or any type of lung ailments,” says Dr. Alan Jackson, a cardiologist with the Advocate Heart Institute at Trinity Hospital in Chicago. “I jokingly tell them that is why God invented high school students.”
Shoveling snow is surprisingly hard work. According to the United States Surgeon General, 15 minutes of snow shoveling equals the exertion of riding five miles on a bike. This puts increased demand on the heart to supply oxygen to our muscles. In addition, cold blood vessels constrict, which then restricts blood flow to the heart and raises blood pressure and pulse rate. These two factors together make snow shoveling extremely dangerous for people with existing heart problems.
Medical officials suggest wearing breathable layers for water evaporation and making sure you have good snow boots to avoid slipping on ice. Also, focus on pushing the snow instead of lifting it because you use less energy with less pressure on your back. Shoveling can put even the healthiest person at risk.
“If a person has no other choice, I would advise them that it’s smart to only shovel a little at a time and try not to relive your youth,” says Dr. Jackson. “But I really do tell my older patients that they should hire someone because it is not worth the risk.”
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