The American Heart Association warns that the extra effort of shoveling snow, especially in cold weather, could lead to dangerous heart problems for many people
DALLAS, January 11, 2024 – Forecasters may call it the “white fluffy stuff,” however, snow may be a greater danger than many think. The American Heart Association is celebrating its centennial as the world’s leading nonprofit organization dedicated to heart and brain health for all. Studies show that the effort of shoveling snow may lead to an increased risk of heart attack or cardiac arrest.
The American Heart Association’s 2020 scientific statement, “Exercise-Related Acute Cardiovascular Events and Potential Harmful Adaptations Following Prolonged Exercise Training: Putting the Risks in Perspective—Update,” notes that physical activities such as shoveling snow may place additional stress on the heart, especially in those who For those who are not used to regular exercise. Numerous scientific studies over the years have established the dangers of shoveling snow to people with and without known heart disease.
The scientific statement’s lead author and long-time volunteer with the American Heart Association, Dr. Barry Franklin, FAHA, is one of the leading experts on the science behind the cardiovascular risks of shoveling snow. He has authored numerous studies on the subject, estimating that hundreds of people die each year in the United States during or after snow removal.
“Shoveling a little snow from the sidewalk may not seem difficult. However, according to research we conducted, shoveling heavy snow may be as stressful or even more stressful on the heart than a treadmill stress test,” said Franklin, co-author of Corewell Health at William Beaumont University Hospital. East, director of preventive cardiology and cardiac rehabilitation and professor of internal medicine at Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine in Royal Oak, Michigan. “For example, just two minutes after it snowed” while shoveling, study participants’ heart rates exceeded 85 percent of their maximum heart rate, a level more commonly expected during vigorous aerobic exercise testing. The effects are most severe for those with the least physical fitness. “
Franklin points out five key ways shoveling snow affects heart health:
- Shoveling snow primarily involves isometric or static force, involving muscle contraction without any movement of the surrounding joints.
- The action of shoveling snow is mostly arm work, which is more strenuous and demanding on the heart than leg work.
- When you lift heavy objects with force, such as shoveling snow, you often unconsciously hold your breath, which can cause your heart rate and blood pressure to rise significantly.
- Since you’re mostly standing still when shoveling, you don’t move your legs much, causing blood to pool in your lower extremities and therefore not return to your heart where it needs oxygenated blood.
- Breathing/exposure to cold air causes vasoconstriction throughout the body, a disproportionate increase in blood pressure, and constriction of the coronary arteries (which are about the size of cooked spaghetti).
“The act of shoveling snow is very strenuous and demanding on your body and can cause your heart rate and blood pressure to rise significantly,” Franklin said. “Plus exposure to cold air constricts blood vessels throughout the body, You’ll be asking your heart to do more work at a reduced capacity to function optimally.
Franklin warned that the effects of snow removal are particularly worrisome for people who already have cardiovascular risks, such as those with a sedentary lifestyle or obesity, current or former smokers, those with diabetes, high cholesterol or hypertension, and those with heart disease. Man attacks or has a stroke.
“People with these characteristics and those who have had bypass surgery or coronary angioplasty should not shovel snow under any circumstances,” he said. “We often see people who are typically sedentary, work in front of a computer all day, or are very A condition that occurs in people who exercise little or not at all. Then once or twice a year, they go out after a heavy snowfall and try to shovel their driveway, and unfortunately, this unexpected effort can lead to tragedy.”
Franklin recommends the following tips to reduce the risks associated with shoveling snow:
- If you have known or suspected heart disease or risk factors for heart disease, let someone else clear the snow for you!
- If you must shovel snow, start gradually and pace yourself. Always cover your mouth and nose, wear layers of clothing, and wear a hat and gloves.
- Ideally, pushing or plowing the snow instead of lifting and throwing it will take slightly less effort.
- Be extra careful when the wind is blowing; wind can make you feel colder than it actually is and increase the effects of the cold on your body.
- Use an automatic snow blower instead of shoveling snow. While you should still err on the side of caution and pay attention to how your body is feeling, research shows that using a snowblower increases your heart rate to around 120, while shoveling snow has a heart rate of about 170.
The American Heart Association urges everyone to know the common symptoms of heart attack and stroke. Stop activity immediately if you experience chest pain or tightness, dizziness, palpitations, or irregular heartbeat. If symptoms persist after you stop shoveling or blowing snow, call 9-1-1. If you see someone collapse while shoveling snow, call for help, and if they are unresponsive and have no pulse, start manual CPR.
Learn more about cold weather and cardiovascular disease here.
About the American Heart Association
The American Heart Association is a tireless force working toward a longer, healthier world. We are committed to ensuring equitable health for all communities. In partnership with numerous organizations and supported by millions of volunteers, we fund innovative research, advocate for public health and share lifesaving resources. The Dallas-based organization has been a leading source of health information for a century. During 2024, our centenary year, we celebrate 100 years of rich history and achievements. As we enter our second century of bold discovery and impact, our vision is to advance health and hope for everyone, everywhere. Connect with us at heart.org, Facebook, X Or call 1-800-AHA-USA1.
Cathy Lewis: [email protected]
Public Inquiries: 1-800-AHA-USA1 (242-8721)
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