shoveling-snow-can-cause-a-heart-attack

How NOT to get a Heart Attack while Shoveling Snow

shoveling-snow-can-cause-a-heart-attack

It’s true. Shoveling snow can trigger a heart attack.

Are there things you can do to lower the risk of heart attack while shoveling snow? Yes, there are. Especially for the middle aged and older, take these precautions…

What Causes a Heart Attack while Shoveling Snow

1. It can be the SUDDEN burst of heavy physical exertion.
2. Sudden increase in heart rate and blood pressure.
3. Cold air constriction of blood vessels, reducing oxygen to heart.

All of this puts strain on the cardiovascular system and may lead to heart attack.

Statistical data from ClevelandClinic.org indicates approximately 800 people are hospitalized each year with cardiac problems from shoveling snow. Many of them are heart attacks.

A report from harvard.health.edu revealed a study whereby “snowfalls of more than eight inches, there was a 16% increase in hospital admissions compared to days with no snow.”

“The deeper the snow, the more men died of heart attacks. A 34% increase was observed the day after an eight-inch snowfall, and higher rates were noted when even more snow fell.”

 

How To Lower Your Heart Attack Risk Shoveling Snow

1. DON’T SHOVEL SNOW.
If you’re particularly at risk, why risk it? Maybe someone else can do it. Maybe you can pay to have it done. If those aren’t options for you, then read on:

2. Reduce SUDDEN exertion. WARM UP FIRST. Start shoveling slow and easy. Don’t go fast. Slower is fine. Start slowly, but also stop slowly. Continue moving and stretching for a few minutes before sitting down.

3. Take breaks! Don’t over stress your heart. You don’t need to get it all done without a break, right?

4. Use a smaller shovel or take smaller shovel-fulls. This is especially important with heavy wet snow.

5. Listen to your body. Be aware of your level of exertion and heart rate. If you know that you are over exerting yourself, slow down.

NOTE: Even using a snow blower or snow thrower may stress the system beyond what’s ‘safe’.

 
It all sounds like common sense. But the thing is, many people start their shoveling snow FULL-ON. You might want to think twice about that.

Even though most people living in the snow belts have a snow blower, there’s shoveling to be done nonetheless – so be careful, take it easy, and survive!

 

Signs of a Heart Attack

According to the American Heart Association,

Heart attacks may start slowly. Just mild pain or discomfort. People affected might not be sure what’s wrong at first.

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
“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
“Shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort.”

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

MEN vs. WOMEN
“As with men, women’s most common heart attack symptom is chest pain or discomfort. But women are somewhat more likely than men to experience some of the other common symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting, and back or jaw pain.”

 
TIP: Don’t slip and fall. Use ice cleats on your boots. Here’s an article that I wrote about it (my best ice cleats).

In addition to my big snow blower, I have used the following electric ‘power shovel’ for a number of years. I use it for blowing snow off the porch deck. Convenient.

Toro Power Shovel

We just got dumped on with snow again yesterday (my inspiration for this post). To make matters worse, it has been below zero all night and all day. Not fun! At least this new snow is light and fluffy (and deep!).

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46 Comments

  1. Rodger that on the “don’t slip and fall!”

    One fall, level ground, taking my time, 5 pieces of firewood: 2 broken fingers, 3 green stick broken ribs, 7in tear in right hamstring, broken nose. black eye.
    Lot of good those cleats in the closet did.
    The fall was instance, boom!! I’m on the ground, split second, no way to lessen the fall.

    That hurt bad, and still does, weeks later.
    In a real SHTF? I would have be almost totally disabled. SCREWED ROYALLY.
    Fortunately, it was not in a SHTF situation. I had access to medical, and help (some hired), from family, and MSB Patriots.

    Pay attention to the details, move with purpose, and think of what happens if you have an accident.

  2. I choose option #1.
    Has been years since I needed to shovel snow. one advantage of living in the desert. AND being prepared, if ya don’t need to go out, than stay home and build a Snowman.

  3. Lots of people don’t know that it is not only your heart that moves blood around your body. The long muscles in your arms and legs also move blood as they contract and relax. As your muscles contract, they put pressure on your blood vessels which also contract — moving blood. There are one-way valves that keep blood from going backward. So with every contraction, your blood moves forward. This is in addition to the forward motion caused by the beating of your heart.

    Even with both your heart and muscles working, when you exert yourself, you can develop a deficit. You get out of breath and you stop to catch your breath. That leaves your heart to do all the work. And it has extra work to do because you have allowed yourself to become oxygen deficient.

    We all know that horses have to be cooled down slowly or their hearts can give out. Horses have four legs instead of two, so cooling down is even more important for them. But humans need to cool down slowly too.

    Most heart attacks happen AFTER exercise, not during exercise.

    1. There use to be lots of kids willing to earn a few dollars. But now they get large allowances from their parents and have no incentive to earn, Continues into adulthood when the government supports them.

  4. When I was younger, I would shovel my parents driveway during a snow storm and then again after. It took me years to just wait and shovel after the snow stopped falling because many times after shoveling in the middle of a snow storm, I would just watch the driveway fill back up and it was even worse because of the piled snow at the edges resulted in even higher snow drifts. So, maybe there is some truth in the adage ‘with age comes wisdom’. Or, ‘work smarter not harder’.

    1. Don’t agree there INPREPPER I live in the snow and its much easier to shovel 6 inches twice than 12 inches once. At least on the body. JMHO Of course then my other opinion is snow ( at least where I live ) is why God invented Jeeps.

  5. Up here in the Dakotas snow is a constant problem for many months of the year. It also does not melt very quickly. If you live in the south, just wait until the snow melts.

    The best way to avoid a heart attack is to use a tractor or a pickup or a Gator with a snowplow. Plow often before it builds up and plow when it is windy. I recommend spending the money for a heater and cab as well. Plowing when it is -20 with the wind chill is no fun without heat.

    A heart attack is not the only hazard. Do not risk the falls! Getting hurt while moving snow is common and getting knocked out can be fatal if your alone. Also do not drink and go outside in cold weather. We had a guy pass out drunk in the snow a few weeks back. We found him frozen to the ground the next morning, very dead. It took hours to get the body free.

    Stay Safe Everyone!

  6. Today was a blue sky day, The rain has finally stopped. But like I replied to Chevy yesterday, no one ever had a heart attack shoveling rain off of the driveway. I will add to the symptoms, unusual indigestion that doesn’t get better after taking over the counter meds like Pepcid or Tums.

    It is a good plan to have chewable baby aspirin on hand and if you think you might be having one chew and swallow four of them right after you call 911. If you don’t have the baby aspirin chew a single regular strength aspirin. It will taste horrible but it does increase your likelihood of surviving. If you don’t take aspirin the ambulance or ER is going to give it to you and charge you an greatly inflated price for it.

    Take your pulse. Note if it is very slow, very fast, thready, or irregular. Sit down
    while waiting for the ambulance. Don’t lie down on a bed. If somebody has to do CPR on you it will be more effective if you are on a hard surface like the floor. Doing CPR on a bed involves compressing the chest and the mattress.

    Never try driving yourself to the hospital as if your heart starts beating wrong you might not get enough blood flow to the brain to maintain consciousness.

    It can be a hard call to make on driving in or calling 911. If you live really far from the hospital you might want to try and compromise and meet an ambulance on on the way if you have someone who can drive you. Flashing your lights when you see the ambulance and make sure the 911 dispatcher knows what your plan is and that the ambulance should expect to see flashing lights.

    Most people don’t keel over and die immediately. Symptoms can persist for quite awhile in some cases. The discomfort though is being caused by heart muscle that is dying from lack of oxygen. The hospital’s goal is to get the blockage opened back up and the heart muscle re-oxygenated before too much of it is damaged. You don’t have to have a completely blocked artery to have a heart attack. A partially blocked artery will also cause one.

    An AED (automated external defibrillator) can be had for around $1250.00 and might be the difference between life and death. Looking on eBay shows them going for even less. Take a CPR course and they will usually teach you how to use one. Having a means of delivering oxygen is also a good plan for increasing your odds of surviving.

    I worked for a while in a little hospital halfway between San Francisco and a ski resort. It was a fairly regular winter occurrence for folks to stop in on their way home with chest discomfort. They lived at sea level and would spend a weekend exerting themselves a mile up on a mountain. We saved a lot of them.

  7. A good reminder article for those in heavy snow areas . We are retired , have 1/2 cord of wood next to the back door, food & water inside so I have to go along with NRP on # 1, don’t shovel. We simply do not travel anywhere when it snows, too much chance of a slip and fall .
    Safe winter to all.

    1. I shovel the driveway each series of snow that we receive but travel is a different story. Growing up, my parents philosophy was that if the snow plow doesn’t go by the house, we don’t go anywhere. Because if our street has not been plowed, then the main road going to the highway has not been plowed either. So, we just stayed put until the snow plow goes by after a snow storm. The way things drift here, it is just not worth it. Some places, the snow might be an inch or two while in others it may be many feet essentially filling in low places or the banks next to the road.

  8. I can’t believe how timely this was. I was just out chipping off a foot of snow/ice mix from the deck to lighten the load and I’m pretty sure I almost had a heart attack. Clearly more exertion exercise is in order.

    1. MontanaHome, Please elaborate. Chest discomfort that comes on with exertion and goes away with rest can be angina. There are two types of angina, stable and unstable. Unstable comes on at rest, typically last a few minutes and goes away. Stable comes on with exertion and stops when you stop. Of the two stable is the least likely to progress to a heart attack. Both of them though indicate a narrowing of at least one of the arteries that supply blood to the heart muscle. Angina can be an early warning symptom of a near future heat attack.

      Nitroglycerin works by relaxing the arteries and allowing them to expand. More blood gets through and with it more oxygen. Interesting piece of trivia is this property of nitroglycerin was accidentally discovered by a doctor who was doing physicals at a dynamite plant. When dynamite was first produced it was done by mixing the nitroglycerin with clay by hand and packing it into waxed cardboard tubes. The doctor noted that the people who were doing the mixing had lower blood pressure that the other employees.

      If this sounds like what happened to you please talk with your doctor about getting a workup for it and a prescription for nitroglycerin tablets. Don’t wait on this.

      As an aside, my every day carry for medical emergencies is an Epi-pen for a really sever allergic reaction, an albuteral Inhaler for respiratory distress, 4 baby aspirin, a bottle of nitroglycerin and a 50 mg beta-blocker (slows heart rate and allows the heart to relax by blocking the effect of epinephrine also know as adrenaline. Nitroglycerin does the same thing but the beta-blocker lasts much longer.) These are kept in the glove compartment of every vehicle we own. For walking around I omit the Epi-pen as it is kind of bulky.

      1. Sorry Me, didn’t mean to be misleading- I was being facetious about needing more exercise not that I was really having symptoms.

  9. This not only applies to removing snow, but to any sudden increase in activity in @ a temperature that anyone is not used to. …as in heavy work outside at 24 degrees when one is accustomed to 50-70 degrees….take extra care to warm air into the lungs.. with a face wrap, slow the activity.. walk slower, lighter to no load…
    As Daisy K noted…the muscles help with puping of the blood supply… at any symptom that is unusual… hard breathing, difficult breathing, discomfort on a deep breath… slow down the activity …not only do the muscles help the heart with pumping of blood so do the blood vessels themselves. That is why those with varicose veins, plaque buildups often have changes in blood pressure and intolerance to exercise.
    There is something else that can be done.. it is a remedy of using cayene pepper.. It is no good to you if it is in a first aide kit a half mile from you….. here is excerpt from an article detailing 2 ways to use. article is” how to stop a heart attack in 60 seconds”. pull it up and read in entirety.

    “If the person is conscious and breathing, mix 1 teaspoon of cayenne with 1 cup of warm water, making it a ‘cayenne tea’ and give it to the person to drink. However, if a person is unconscious, using cayenne extract or tincture may do the trick. Simply place a couple of drops under the person’s tongue and let the effects take place.
    As noted, Dr. Christopher claimed to never lose a patient in his 35 years of experience if a patient walked into his office conscious and breathing! He attributed this fact to his use of cayenne pepper. “

      1. Ken
        Every place in this country has some challenges or risk.
        Drought, high humidity, excess rain, tornados, hurricanes, mud slides, earth quakes, volcanos, sink holes, alligators, snow birds, wind, dust events, flooding, tsunami, avalanches, socialism/taxes …..
        The choice should be what challenges can be mitigated to make your place a more worry-free home.
        For me, I accept some snow clearing and avoid the other heart attacks.
        And it is amazing what you can track in a layer of fresh snow – usually one is not aware of all the different animals that live with you, unseen.

        1. Hermit,
          We had a mountain lion eating neighborhood dogs and the occasional deer when i was in Co, most people in the neighborhood didnt get it, were thinking big kittycat how cute and awww leave it alone, then one neighbor had a close brush with it after being intrigued by the big paw prints they found in the snow outside their house that were directly behind the wee little boot prints of their 8 year old daughter,,,
          Suddenly that big kitty cat was a problem

          1. I thought it was his “wee little …” that got him into trouble. :)

    1. I agree. Get out of the snow, which only causes you to spend extra money to keep alive, makes travel dangerous, reduces you survival if SHTF, limits growing seasons, negatively effects your animals, and causes damage to your vehicles. Get out of the snow. Move to a nice place where it never snows, and doesn’t get very cold..ever. If you like the snow, visit it…but, do not live in it.

      1. Ision
        It does take a bit of work to bring in the firewood for the winter, but sitting before that fire is as calming as anything on earth for me.
        I have a bigger problem with high temperatures – unless you air condition. Then trying to work in the heat is more difficult for me than cold.
        Garden does well in Idaho but only one crop per year.

        1. I agree, I find it much easier to get warm when it is cold out than to cool off when it is hot out.

    2. Moving south solves the snow problem for sure. But then you have the heat problem. During SHTF, without air conditioning many will learn real fast how miserable the south can be.

      You really just need to pick your poison.

      1. It’s only in the last 40+ years that Air Conditioning came to the South.
        People, like me, did quite fine without it.
        How did people ever live without tv’s, computers and cell phones before ?
        You adapt to what’s available to you, like people throughout history have always done. My family lived quite fine without it before – now that luxury has become a necessity (?).
        You come down from the north to visit, not being used to the heat, and you can’t take it. WIMP !

      2. Hey JohhyReb
        No need to yell.
        I worked construction in temps up to 120 for years and in winters to -30. But we each find what is most comfortable and it depends on what work needs to be done. Yes, we can function with salt tablets and a quart of water every hour, but the beauty about freedom is that we can chose the area that suits us best. No hatred about any particular area (well maybe CA and NY) :)

      3. Rebs,

        Born and raised Texan here. Air conditioning was rare in most homes until the 1970’s. Folks used other means to cope with the heat, such as 10-12 foot ceilings in their homes, 9 foot double hung windows, attic fans, and screen doors and sleeping porches. I remember sleeping in the yard on cots, with mosquito nets Dad had brought back from the South Pacific unpleasantries.

        You don’t miss what you had never had. While I never lived w/o electricity, my grand parents did. My maternal grand parents didn’t get wired until the mid 1950’s. I remember staying with them and seeing how they lived without it. That’s one of the reasons I feel quite sure I can adapt should we lose it. Folks in my age group have that as an advantage to younger folks who’ve never seen life w/o it.

        1. You made a very good point. Until the mid 60’s my maternal grandparents had no water inside, no inside bathroom, no central heat and never had AC no central heat in their life. The well was right outside the back door with a bucket and windlass for procurement, the outhouse was 50 yards away, they used coal for heat and a couple small fans for the hot summers. I have absolutely no fear of life without electricity and whatever inconvenience follows. Do I desire to live that way? NO, but it’s not something I fear. It is a lot of physical work.

          Learn to live without electric, learn to produce your own food, learn to produce something of value you can sell or trade for things you don’t produce. People must strive to less dependant on someone or something else, i.e., gov, stores, gas man, etc.

          1. Sounds like similar set-up to my grand parents. Shallow well about 20′ from back door. No pump, just bucket, rope and windlass. Baths were, as a rule, Saturday afternoon, involving placing a galvanized tub on the kitchen floor, drawing about 20 buckets of water, and filling pots and pans to be heated on the kitchen stove. Their kids, my Mother and siblings, put a pump on that shallow well, and piped water to their kitchen sink in the late 60’s. The pump was turned on and off with a switch mounted on the wall behind the sink. Before they passed on, myself and other grand kids built a small bathroom onto the back of the house, complete with commode and small bathtub. This made it a four room house. Until then, it was a bedroom, kitchen, and living room. They raised five children in those three small rooms. Built from clap-board (board and batten) un-insulated walls.

            This home stayed in the family until about 10 years ago. That tiny little farming community was about 20 miles from downtown Dallas, and became a high end bedroom community starting in the 1990’s. The house was grandfathered, but became surrounded by million dollar+ vanity homes. That little 50’x200′ lot became more valuable to neighboring millionaires than to the family.

      4. Could someone please explain to me what an “Air Conditioning” is?
        Not sure with that term is ….

        1. Sure. It’s a process where air is conditioned. If ignorance is bliss, you’ll never get the smile off my face. :-)

  10. As the writer Rudyard Kipling said about his experiences in India:
    “Only Mad Dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun.”
    Up north, people go out to enjoy the summer sun.
    In the south, during the summer, you do your outside work early in the morning and late in the afternoon and evening.
    Does the term “Siesta” sound familiar ?
    As the man said – You Adapt !

    1. I believe it was Teddy Roosevelt that said if he had a house in Arizona and a house in Hell he would sell the place in Arizona and move to Hell.

      I was stationed in Fort Huachuca in the late 70s. The summers were very hot and very dry. Clothes line only had one line because by the time you reached the far end it was dry where you started. We used to joke that we drank all week and peed on Sunday meaning we stayed somewhat dehydrated. No sweating because the perspiration evaporated immediately.

      I did enjoy the area and have many fond memories of hunting cottontails with a Ruger MK 1. Rabbit season started on Jan 1st and ended on Dec 31st.

      It hardly ever snowed there but we did get it once. The first snow in 30 years and we got 11 inches. No snow plows and the radio station was broadcasting for folks with chains to please call the police department as they wanted to borrow them.

  11. All the advice Ken stated in the article regarding shoveling snow in his zone in New Hampshire can be applied to me living where I live in regards to cutting grass. While the North Country is dealing with snow and ice right now, I am dealing with rain.

    I am not a big fan of ice or ice storms because I see that as the biggest danger and threat to most of us on this site being older. I drove ambulance in my younger years and picked up a lot of seniors that fell and broke their hips. Slipping on ice still occurs. The only things that have changed are that I got older and other young people are now driving the ambulances.

    Within 3 months, I will be out cutting my grass again after dosing up on Claritin and antihistamine drops for my eyes cutting the grass again and taking breaks/pacing myself/sipping on iced tea during breaks.

    Last summer I thought I was getting old and out-of-shape because I was getting tired just cutting grass. Turns out last July had the record for 90 degree days during the month of July. As stated by the Rebs from south of the Mason-Dixon Line: adapt by working at dawn and dusk, have an ice chest around with your favorite cold drinks and pace yourself when you are working.

    1. Every year can get tougher. I will state the obvious – get rid of that slave driving grass. Some nice rockery, gravel, sand, – a few shrubs. I’m sure there are many things you can do in your free time.

      1. I love my lawn, all of the pretty little flower by the thousands. Looking like miniature suns scattered everywhere. And so much fun when they mature into the those little white puff balls. they do well when it rains a lot and they do well when it doesn’t rain much. Bees and Rabbits love them and humans can eat them also. High in vitamin C also.

  12. Many people here in the North GA mountains do not have air conditioning by choice. July, August are the only real “hot” months but there are a few days a year that get into the upper 90’s and that is usually between 1300-1600. Mornings are cool as are late afternoons which is when I do the majority of my outdoor work.

    Every place has its pros and cons so it’s up to the invidual to choose what is best for them overall.

  13. To hermit us:

    I did not mean to gripe too much about my grass because when it is cut and even, it is a joy to behold on a warm summer evening after the mowing is done and my dog loves to frolic in it when she is not running laps or pooping.

    With a green lawn, there is work followed by reward. the long stretches of green grass are being broken up by whiskey barrel planters where we grow flowers and vegetables. Other spots have bird baths and feeders.

    It is a pretty cool place that is worth the effort. I just have to remember to pace myself when I tend to it on a warm summer day.

    Ken’s article was timely for those that must keep their sidewalks and driveways clear. I used to drive ambulance and I still work in the medical field. Though I am getting older, I still need to get out and exercise some each day. My job is not sedentary and there is enough to do around my yard and garden to prevent me from being bored.

    Use safety equipment like ice cleats and the right ergo equipment before doing the job. Pace yourself, and don’t forget to drink water while you work. I find myself getting dehydrated faster in very cold weather while working.

  14. Good reminder, Ken.
    And thanks for additional info Daizy K, Just Sayin and others.

    I was a little reluctant to comment as not to jinx myself.
    My granddad died of a heart attack on this road taking a walk in the winter at the age of 52. My dad had his first heart attack at the age of 52. I’ll be 52 next week. My brother has surpassed that curse at the age of 56. Although he has other health issues.
    I try to keep myself physically active. Cutting/spitting wood, shoveling snow, horse poo, farrier work, etc. even hunting can cause those attacks, by over exertion. Those time out breaks do matter. And know when to take them and be alert to the symptoms.

    1. Joe c
      Knowing you have a special issue concerning your daily health. Can you eat apples? I had read somewhere a long time ago it was a great fiber for keeping the sludge from building up in the arteries. fyi

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