Removing snow by shoveling as well as using a snow blower can increase risk of heart attacks or other cardiac events even for people without a history of heart problems. These activities can increase heart rate and systolic blood pressure (how much pressure your blood exerts on the artery walls when your heart beats). Moreover, cold temperatures increase blood pressure and constrict coronary arteries, a combination that can also lead to a heart attack.
Certain at-risk individuals should avoid snow removal activities altogether. But even if you are strong, healthy and feeling fine, it’s important to follow certain guidelines to ensure your snow days are safe days for your heart and wellbeing. AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center’s Heart and Vascular Institute and Emergency teams offer the following tips:
Do not shovel snow or use a snow blower if you have one or more of these risk factors:
-Leading a sedentary lifestyle
-Are current or former smoker
-High blood pressure
-Have had a heart attack, stroke, bypass surgery or coronary angioplasty
Be aware of warning signs of heart attack during snow removal activity, including:
-Increased heart rate—according to the American Heart Association just two minutes of shoveling can cause heart rates to exceed the upper limit
-Chest pain or chest pressure
-Heart palpitations or irregular heart rhythms
Tips for shoveling safely:
-If you experience any of the warning signs above, stop shoveling immediately and call 911 if symptoms get worse or do not resolve after a few minutes of rest.
-Shovel in pairs. It’s best to have a family member or friend with you so that if you do experience symptoms of a heart attack, including passing out, that person can call 911 for you.
-Do warm-up exercises—make sure to move around and stretch to get your blood circulating before heading out to shovel.
-Dress warmly, cover your mouth with a scarf to help you inhale warm air; take several breaks inside.
-Push snow to clear it instead or use a smaller shovel to minimize the size of your “lift and throw” load.
-Shovel at a slow and steady pace; take frequent breaks; shovel in shifts with other members of your household or neighbors.
TIPS TO AVOID THE SLIPS
If you must venture out in snow, ice or temperatures where ice can form on walkways, practice these safety tips:
-Wear boots, shoes or sneakers made for the snow or ice, with ice grippers or proper non-slide treads that are not worn down.
-Keep it short, your stride that is. Long strides can lead to more slips.
-Avoid the rush. Slow your pace and take it one step at a time.
-Only use walkways that are clear of snow, sleet and debris.
-Beware of hidden traps. Even walkways that appear “all clear” can have ice that’s hard to detect.
-Keep your cell phone within reach in case you do fall and need to call for help.