Shoveling Snow Increases Risk of Heart Attack

(LONGMONT, COLO.) Longmont United Hospital - Centura Health, the region’s health care leader, wants you to be safe this winter while removing snow. U.S. Nationwide Children's Hospital in 2014 that found 1,647 people died from shoveling snow from 1990 to 2006, an average of about 100 deaths per year.

Snow shoveling is particularly strenuous because it uses arm work, which is more taxing than leg work which uses larger muscle groups. Many people hold their breath during heart work which also puts a strain on the body. Straining to move wet and heavy snow is particularly likely to cause a surge in heart rate and blood pressure.

“Shoveling snow is actually very hard on the heart,” says Dr. Layth Saleh, cardiologist at Longmont United Hospital. “When you combine strenuous activity with cold air, which causes arteries to constrict and decreases blood supply, this creates the perfect storm for a heart attack.”

Snow shoveling is an activity that people only do during certain times of the year. It works muscles that go unused during typical exercises such as running. Additionally, the prime time for snow clearance is between 6 and 10 am which is when circadian fluctuations make us more vulnerable to heart attacks.

“Shoveling snow is more strenuous than you would think. It’s like starting an intense weightlifting program in freezing temperatures without any preparation,” says Saleh. “People who get very little exercise with known or suspected coronary disease are at the greatest risk and need to be especially cautious.”

If you are at risk for a heart attack or over the age of 55 it is important to take precautions if you need to remove snow. Some tips for staying safe while shoveling include:

  • Using a snow blower to clear snow. This can reduce the energy expended and lower your risk of over exerting yourself.
  • Take frequent breaks. The more snow you must remove and the heavier that snow is, the more frequent breaks you should take.
  • Dress in layers. Cold air constricts blood vessels so it’s important to keep yourself warm. It is a good idea to take frequent breaks to go inside to warm up.
  • Push rather than lift the snow. Lifting is more strenuous and exhausting than pushing snow because you can distribute the work over more muscles than just your arms and shoulders.
  • Don’t eat or smoke before shoveling.
  • Hire someone to remove the snow for you. This is the safest option if you have heart disease or are at high risk for a heart attack. It’s also a good idea for people who are unsure of their exercise tolerance or do not exercise regularly.

If you are concerned about developing heart disease or want to know your personal risk, Longmont United Hospital encourages you to talk with your health care provider.


About Longmont United Hospital
Longmont United Hospital, part of Centura Health, is a non-profit community hospital with specialty areas in Women’s & Children's Services, Heart and Vascular, Orthopedics and Spine, Neurosciences, Comprehensive Surgical Services, Cancer Care, Trauma Services, Primary Care, and Acute Medical Services. It offers quality in-patient and out-patient healthcare services including Physician Services and a 24-hour Emergency Department. The Emergency Department is a Level III Trauma Center, as designated by the state of Colorado. Visit Longmont United Hospital website.

Media Contact
Kirsten Pfotenhauer
Communications Manager, Longmont United Hospital
Phone: 303-678-4036

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