By Kim Smiley
You may have heard that shoveling snow can trigger a heart attack and studies have found that there is truth behind that concern. Before you pick up a shovel this winter, there are a few things you should know.
Shoveling can be much more strenuous than many people realize – even more strenuous than running at full speed on a treadmill. Snow shoveling also tends to be a goal-oriented task. People want to clear the driveway before they stop and they may push their bodies beyond the point where they would if they were exercising for fitness.
Cold temperatures can increase the risk of heart problems occurring. When a body gets cold, the arteries constrict and blood pressure can increase, which in turn increases the risk of heart issues. High blood pressure and a sudden increase in physical activity can be a dangerous combination. Additionally, it may take longer than normal for emergency help to arrive if it is needed because of snow and ice on the roadways which makes the situation potentially even more dangerous.
If you are young and fit, snow shoveling can be a great workout (and maybe you could help out your elderly neighbors if possible…), but if you are at risk of heart problems, you may want to put some thought into how you attack the problem of clearing your driveway and/or sidewalks. First off, you should know if you are potentially at high risk. Studies have found that people over 55 are four times more likely to experience heart-related issues while shoveling and men are twice as likely as women. People with known heart problems, diabetes or high blood pressure are also potentially high-risk. Anybody who is sedentary is also at a higher risk of heart issues than somebody who exercises regularly.
So what should you do if you are concerned about the risk of heart problems and shoveling? If possible, you may want to avoid shoveling if there is somebody else who can do it. If you are determined to shovel yourself, make sure you drink lots of water and dress warmly. Try to push the snow if possible, rather than shoveling it. It is also generally better to shovel lots of lighter loads rather than fewer, heavy loads. If possible, you may want to shovel several times throughout the storm to spread the work out over time. Take frequent breaks and stop immediately if you feel tired, lightheaded, short of breath or your chest hurts. Stay safe this winter!
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