Be Heart-Smart When Shoveling Snow

An expert explains why people have a heightened risk for suffering a heart attack after shoveling heavy amounts of snow.

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CLEVELAND – Watching several inches of snow blanket the lawn can be a beautiful sight.

However, most of us are less-than-thrilled at the thought of shoveling the white stuff from our driveways.

But, before heading outdoors with shovel in hand, experts say there is a heightened risk for suffering a heart attack after shoveling heavy amounts of snow.

According to Luke Laffin, M.D., a cardiologist at Cleveland Clinic, many people underestimate just how strenuous snow-shoveling can be.

“It’s very similar to being at ‘peak exercise’ on a stress test, so it puts a lot of strain on your heart,” he said. “And for someone who isn’t used to actually exercising and being physically fit, it can predispose them to heart attacks.” 

If you plan to shovel, Dr. Laffin said it’s important to take your time – don’t push yourself.

If you feel your body beginning to tire, go inside and rest for a little bit.

Dr. Laffin said it’s best to not try and tackle an entire driveway all at once. Instead, he recommends dividing up the work and taking frequent breaks.

He said it’s also critical to stay warm and hydrated while shoveling snow.

Any significant onset of chest pain, trouble breathing, or pain that radiates down the arm or into the neck, are hallmark signs of a potential heart attack, and are reasons to stop and seek medical attention right away. 

Other less common signs of heart attack include getting tired more easily, feeling like a cold sweat is coming on, or feeling light-headed.

If a loved one begins to show signs of heart trouble, or has trouble breathing after shoveling snow, call 9-1-1 immediately and seek medical care.

If you have multiple medical conditions, or are over the age of 55, Dr. Laffin said it’s best to get someone else to shovel for you – it’s not worth the risk.

“Particularly people that have multiple medical conditions such as coronary artery disease, hypertension; or maybe they’re overweight or obese and don’t get a lot of physical activity – it’s not worth it to risk your heart,” he said. “I think hiring the kid down the street to do it is a great idea.”

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