Your health: Snow shoveling and potential dangers for your heart |

Your health: Snow shoveling and potential dangers for your heart

Carolyn Willette
Special to the Bonanza
Shoveling snow at a rapid rate, or too strenuously, can cause sudden increases in blood pressure and heart rate
Getty Images/iStockphoto | iStockphoto

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 sudden increases in blood pressure and heart rate, and the cold air can cause constriction of the blood vessel and decrease oxygen to the heart.

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


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 signs that can mean a heart attack is happening:

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 with or without chest discomfort.

Other signs may include breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.

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, has been a nurse caring for cardiac patients for more than 30 years. Cardiac rehabilitation classes and Silver Steps, a senior exercise program, are available at Tahoe Forest Hospital. A free lecture series is held weekly, Wednesdays, from 9:30-10:30 a.m. to help you get the facts to reduce your risk of heart disease. For more information on any of these programs, call 530-582-3285.

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