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Snow shoveling is a physical exercise, similar to running full speed on a treadmill. Add that to the extreme cold weather, and it can cause a strain on the heart. Research shows that snow shoveling is responsible for about 11,500 fatalities, with 1,647 of these fatalities being cardiac-related. Furthermore, it's the cause of 100 deaths each year.
Shoveling snow without caution can be dangerous to people of all ages. However, older people, from age 55 and above, are at a higher risk of getting a heart attack while shoveling snow. If you're a senior citizen, especially with an underlying heart condition, it's best to avoid shoveling snow yourself.
Snow shoveling is a strenuous activity that involves the hands, which is more tasking than leg work. A shovel of snow can weigh up to 15 pounds on average. Imagine having to bend, lift this weight, and move it to another side repeatedly. It's comparable to lifting weights continuously.
At this point, even a young and healthy person's heart rate and blood pressure will increase. Certain factors also increase cardiovascular stress. Firstly, many people who shovel snow rarely exercise or perform any physical activity for months. Secondly, most people will naturally hold their breaths when lifting a heavy shovel of snow, leading to a Valsalva effect.
A Valsalva effect increases blood pressure when performing strenuous work. Thirdly, the typical time people shovel snow is in the morning, when circadian rhythms make them more vulnerable to cardiovascular issues.
Combining these scenarios with the cold temperature creates the perfect cause of a heart attack. Why? Cold air can increase blood pressure, constrict arteries, and restrict blood flow to some parts of the heart. As a result, blood clots form, leading to a gradual shutting down of the heart muscle cells and eventually death.
Besides senior citizens, other individuals at higher risk of shoveling-related heart attacks include:
While snow shoveling sounds like a regular winter chore, it's dangerous to health. If you're over 55, consider your heart health before going out with that shovel. It's best to hire snow removal services to do the job. Having a clear driveway isn't worth the risk to your life.