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Be Heart-Smart When Shoveling Snow

We recently experienced a fresh snowfall where many of our area communities measured a foot or more of accumulation. The Northeast typically receives numerous snow events throughout the winter months, which is why several local news channels issued words of caution about the dangers of shoveling heavy snow.

“Research shows that many people may face an increased risk of a heart attack or sudden cardiac arrest after shoveling heavy snow,” the American Heart Association (AHA) explains.

Because February is Heart Health Month and one death from shoveling snow is too many, I want to share helpful safety information from the AHA so we can all be heart-smart when shoveling snow to prevent acute heart events.

In a scientific statement by the AHA in 2020, snow shoveling is listed as a physical activity that places extra stress on the heart, especially among people who do not regularly exercise. In addition, numerous scientific research studies over the years have examined the dangers of shoveling snow for people with and without previously known heart disease.

The lead author of the AHA report and several other studies, Barry Franklin, Ph.D., FAHA is a leading expert on the science behind the cardiovascular risks of snow shoveling. He estimates that hundreds of people die during or following snow removal annually.

“Shoveling a little snow off your sidewalk may not seem like hard work. However, the strain of heavy snow shoveling may be as or more demanding on the heart than taking a treadmill stress test,” Dr. Franklin said. “For example, after only two minutes of snow shoveling, study participants’ heart rates exceeded 85% of maximal heart rate, which is a level more commonly expected during intense aerobic exercise testing. The impact is hardest on those people who are less fit.”

A Canadian study discovered that the possibility of a heart attack after a snowfall increased among men but not women. “A heavy snow – about 7-8 inches – was associated with 16% greater odds of men being admitted to the hospital with a heart attack and a 34% greater risk in the chance of men dying from a heart attack.”

Colder temperatures can cause blood pressure to rise and blood vessels to constrict, preventing proper blood flow to the heart. Combining these factors with an increased heart rate from snow shoveling activity may increase the risk for sudden cardiac events.

Furthermore, other studies found that using snow blowers can also increase the risk of heart attacks because they must be pushed, which raises the heart rate and blood pressure in a short amount of time.

If a person has cardiovascular risks, like a sedentary lifestyle, obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and smoking, as well as survivors of heart attack or stroke, their risk of suffering a cardiac event increases exponentially.

Dr. Franklin said, “The most important thing is to be aware of the dangers, be prepared and take it easy, including taking short breaks. Even people who are relatively healthy should note that pushing the snow with a shovel is better physically than lifting and throwing it.”

The AHA encourages everyone to be aware of the common signs of a cardiac event:

  • Chest pain or pressure
  • Lightheadedness
  • Heart palpitations or irregular heart rhythms
  • Pain or discomfort in arms, back, jaw, or stomach
  • Shortness of breath
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Nausea/light-headedness

If you experience any of these symptoms, stop shoveling snow and take a break. If the symptoms persist, CALL 911!

If you notice someone has collapsed while shoveling or blowing snow, CALL 911 and check for a pulse. If they are unresponsive and have no pulse, begin Hands-Only CPR until first responders arrive.

Remember, before you begin shoveling snow:

  • Stretch your muscles to warm up
  • Start slowly and pace yourself
  • Don’t try to shovel all the snow all at once
  • Take frequent breaks to rest and hydrate
  • Try pushing snow more than lifting and throwing heavy snow to reduce the physical impact

If you or a senior loved one has heart disease, has suffered a heart attack, or endured cardiovascular surgery and could benefit from in-home care and assistance, I am happy to offer a FREE Consultation to complete an assessment so I can match the perfect caregiver to help.

Home Helpers® MetroWest caregivers provide senior care services that include specialized Alzheimer’s and dementia care, personal care, companionship, homemaker services, nutritional meal planning and preparation, respite care, recuperative care, transportation assistance, wellness calls, and so much more.

Please take advantage of my no-obligation, FREE Consultation so I can assess your needs and find specific ways our highly trained caregivers can make life easier for you or a special senior you love.

Home Helpers® MetroWest proudly serves male and female seniors in Concord, Farmingham, Lincoln, Marlborough, Natick, Southborough, Sudbury, Wayland, Weston, and surrounding areas. We are Making Life Easier℠ in our Massachusetts communities every day! 508-545-0164


American Heart Association