The Risk of Snow Shoveling and Heart Attack, & What You Can do to Help Prevent It

Snow shoveling can be a strenuous task for those who lead a sedentary lifestyle, and if certain precautions are not taken a heart attack may be in their future.

For many in the US, exercise is not a constant in their lives. Because of this, it can be especially worrisome when the person is expected to do very strenuous activity all of a sudden. Instances such as these occur during a heavy snowfall and the person has to shovel or push a snowblower. This sudden strenuous activity can sometimes lead to injury, and in even some cases a heart attack. Those who are at risk for heart attack when snow shoveling are as follows: those with a history of a prior heart attack, those with a known heart disease, those with a history of high blood pressure or high cholesterol, smokers and those who lead a sedentary lifestyle.

So what can you do to prevent heart attacks if you fall in that category? Here are a few things that you can do before you shovel to ensure you don't increase your risk of heart attack:

  • Talk to your doctor about shoveling before winter sets in.
  • Don't eat a heavy meal, drink coffee, or smoke before shoveling the snow. Blood is diverted to the stomach when eating, while coffee and smoking elevates blood pressure an increases heart rate.
  • Give yourself some time after waking up before shoveling, and be sure to warm up by marching in place an doing some stretches.
  • Use a small shovel, drink lots of water and take frequent 15-minute breaks.
  • Dress in layers while being sure to cover your head, neck, and mouth.
  • Watch for signs of heart attack (lightheadedness, dizziness, shortness of breath, and tightness or burning in the chest and neck/arms).