KN, p. 163 “Snow Shoveling & Heart Attacks”



Snow shoveling and heart attacks. It seems like every winter we hear stories of otherwise seemingly healthy men, pitching over in the snow. Back in 2016, I read about an off-duty cop (only in his 40s) dying while helping his neighbors dig out around their house.


Good guy on and off the job helping somebody in need, with a tragic ending to the story. And he wasn’t the only one. More than 100 people nationwide are reported to have died after shoveling snow each year in the USA. Canada numbers are even higher.


Why does that happen? And what can you do to prevent it from happening to you?


First, let’s talk about the ‘why.’


It’s not just about the physical exertion of lifting the wet, heavy, sticky snow that Storm Jonas delivered this past weekend to most of the Eastern Seaboard of the USA. The air is colder than we are used to breathing, and the cold air causes blood vessels to constrict. Also (and news to me) cold air can cause clotting, which could lead to a blockage. So anybody with a known or unknown risk for high blood pressure is immediately placing more stress on the body before he/she ever lifts the first shovel full of snow.


We tend to shovel snow without warming up and without cooling down – both actions placing more stress on the heart. Lots of arm action also increases blood pressure. Combine all those typical factors together, and anybody that is at-risk already, may be in trouble out in the snow.


How do we keep from keeling over?


  • Warm up for about five minutes with stretches and side bends/turns.
  • If it’s really cold wear a scarf around your mouth so that the cold air gets filtered and stays a little warmer.
  • Use a smaller shovel or lift smaller amounts of snow.
  • Breathe in and completely out while you shovel. Shallow breaths don’t help here.
  • If you feel tired, stop. Pay a neighborhood kid to finish the job.
  • Work for no more than 30 minutes at a time, then take a break.
  • If you’re breathing hard, stop.
  • When you’re finished, cool down and walk around upright for a few minutes before going inside. (The body doesn’t like the shock of going back and forth quickly between extreme temperatures.)



Make sure that you take care of yourself, so that you can enjoy life on the golf course after the snow melts.



*Photos by Patti Phillips, taken in North Carolina and Texas.



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8 thoughts on “KN, p. 163 “Snow Shoveling & Heart Attacks””

  1. Good tips, Patti. I live with Mom and Dad who are now in their late 70s. Mom expressed this very concern about Dad, but this was the first I had heard about a particular heart risk concerning shoveling. Dad was preparing to go out to help me with shoveling, but I prayed he would be spared a heart attack. Shortly afterwards, a man knocked on our door wanting the job of shoveling for pay, so we were able to use his services. I think it worked out well all around. The man, I think, probably really needed the job and money.

    1. Thanks so much for sharing your story, Susan. So often our family members want to help when they really shouldn’t, and it’s good to hear that the day ended well for all of you. 😀

  2. I will turn 71 this March, and just suffered a stroke this past October 2nd. I have always shoveled my own walk and driveway, ever since I was a kid. Your advice about smaller shovelfuls, shorter periods of activity, and warming up, is right on the money. It also helps to be in touch with your own body and understand when to back off. Believe it or not, my wife (68) and I shoveled 12 + inches of heavy Western North Carolina snow off our 150 foot driveway last weekend, with about 70% of the shoveling done by yours truly. I did the shoveling in two 30-35 minute shifts, resting and recharging my batteries for a couple of hours in between sessions. The driveway looks great, and there were no ill effects, other than a little stiffness in the joints for a day or so. Bottom line? Use some good ordinary common sense, and follow Patti’s advice. Happy shoveling!

    1. Great feedback, Joe! Thanks so much for sharing your story and I’m delighted that the post rang true for you. Common sense is indeed the key. 🙂

  3. Wow, great info, and it really makes me think. I’m one of those who goes outside and just tackles the job without warm up or stretching. Thank you Kerrian!!!

    1. Seriously, Sue, so did I. From now on, I will warm up beforehand, and cool down afterward. 🙂

  4. Having had a heart attack about a year ago, shoveling is not really in my job tasks. Didn’t know about the clotting factor though, that was news to me. But the same can go from going in and out of heat to air condition. At a job I had working in the office and had to go back in forth into a hot warehouse I got bad chest pains couldn’t breath it hurt and my Dr. said it was from heat to cold. Mostly cause and don’t know why they crank up the air on hot days.

    1. I had no idea about the heart attack, Barbara! I’m so happy to hear that you recovered quickly. Very smart of you not to tackle the driveways and sidewalks anymore. Thanks for stopping by. 🙂

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