Shoveling Snow Is A Heart Hazard

In Good Health
red shovel in snow

Snow shoveling is considered one of the highest intensity exercises you can do. If you load a shovel that weighs about 2 pounds with 10 pounds of snow every 5 seconds, you move a load of over 140 pounds per minute. After 15 minutes, you will have moved more than 2,000 pounds of snow.

Nationwide, snow shoveling is responsible for thousands of injuries and as many as 100 deaths each year. Shoveling can be very strenuous on your body - whether you’re in good health or not. Shoveling snow can cause a sudden increase in blood pressure and heart rate. Additionally, cold temperatures may increase blood pressure while causing blood vessels to constrict, which can decrease oxygen supply to the heart.

"Shoveling heavy, wet snow is a workout for the healthiest individual," explains Elias Skaf, MD, Cardiologist at McLaren Port Huron."If you have any history of heart problems, or have cardiovascular risks such as a sedentary lifestyle, obesity, high cholesterol, high blood pressure or a smoking history, I recommend not shoveling snow at all. Even using a snowblower carries risk."

Before venturing out to shovel snow, review these safety tips:

  • Do a 10-minute warm up focusing on the neck, back, hips, torso, wrists and shoulders.
  • Shovel only fresh, powdery snow and push the snow rather than lifting it.
  • Take it slow and use the proper form. Bend your knees, keep your back straight.
  • Stay hydrated and take frequent breaks. Do not work to the point of exhaustion.
  • Do not shovel after eating or while smoking.

If you experience chest discomfort that lasts more than a few minutes, or that goes away and comes back, shortness of breath, discomfort in other areas of the upper body, arms, back, neck, jaw or stomach, cold sweats, nausea or lightheadedness, stop immediately and call 911.

If you think you're at risk for heart disease, make an appointment with your primary care physician or cardiologist. If you need a new physician, find one today.