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.