Trouble with the shovel: Moving snow, and protecting your heart |

Trouble with the shovel: Moving snow, and protecting your heart

Carolyn Willette
Special to the Bonanza
At Truckee and Tahoe, shoveling snow (when we have it) can be a very strenuous task.
Courtesy | iStockphoto

TAHOE-TRUCKEE, Calif. — Did you know that snow shoveling can be dangerous for some people? Here is why: Snow shoveling puts excessive demands on the heart.

Snow shoveling can be more strenuous than exercising full throttle on a treadmill. Shoveling, even pushing a heavy snow blower, can cause a sudden increase in blood pressure and heart rate, and the cold air can cause constriction of blood vessels and a decrease of oxygen to the heart.

All these work together to increase the work of the heart and can potentially trigger a heart attack.

So, are you at risk of a heart attack during cold outdoor activities?

High-risk individuals include those who have had a prior heart attack; those with known heart disease; those with high blood pressure or high cholesterol; smokers; and those who lead a sedentary lifestyle.

Reduce your risks before you go out to shovel snow. Start an exercise regimen under the supervision of your doctor or health team and talk to your doctor about what your heart disease risk factors are.

Here are some tips for safe shoveling:

• Warm up your muscles before starting.

• Shovel many light loads instead of fewer heavy ones.

• Take frequent breaks.

• Use your legs to ease the load on your arms and back.

• Wear a scarf or mask to warm the air you breathe.

• Head inside if you think you are having symptoms.

Most heart attacks start slowly, with mild pain or discomfort. Often people affected aren’t sure what’s wrong and wait too long before getting help. Here are some signs of heart attack:

Chest discomfort: Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes, or that goes away and comes back. It can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain.

Discomfort in other areas of the upper body: Symptoms can include pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.

Shortness of breath: This can happen with or without chest discomfort.

Other signs: They include breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or light-headedness.

If you are not sure it’s a heart attack, have it checked out. Fast action can save lives — maybe your own. Learn the heart attack warning signs and listen to your body and don’t wait to call 911.

Carolyn Willette, RN, works in the Tahoe Forest Hospital Cardiac Rehab Department. Carolyn has been caring for cardiac patients for over 30 years. Cardiac Rehabilitation and Silver Steps, a senior exercise program, are available at Tahoe Forest Hospital. Visit for more information.

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