During the Winter months in West Virginia, it is not uncommon to wake up to a layer of fresh, crisp snow covering your neighborhood. While most of us are not thrilled to clear snow from our driveways, there is a legitimate health risk associated with this chore. Experts caution that you have a heightened risk of heart attack after shoveling heavy amounts of snow.
As much as it can seem like a mundane outdoor job, data published by PubMed reveals there are approximately 11,500 injuries each year from shoveling snow, including 100 fatalities.
Common injuries from snow shoveling:
The most common types of injuries from shoveling snow are soft tissue injuries, making up 55 percent of all snow shoveling injuries. Following that are lacerations, which account for 16 percent of injuries. Fractures and heart-related injuries both make up seven percent each. But what injuries prove to be the most dangerous and are responsible for half of the hospitalizations and 100 percent of the fatalities? The answer is cardiovascular injuries.
Why are cardiovascular injuries associated with snow shoveling?
The two main factors that make shoveling snow a potentially dangerous activity for cardiovascular events is the cold and the exertion required to shovel snow. Cold temperatures can cause blood vessels to constrict and decrease blood supply to the heart. As the heart begins to beat faster from the exertion, the body has trouble getting enough blood supply to the heart – increasing the risk of a heart attack. The deeper the snow, the more effort it takes and the more risk there is of hospitalization and death from a cardiac event.
How to protect yourself while shoveling snow:
Even a very active person who does cardiovascular exercise several times a week should protect themselves from a snow shoveling accident by following these tips:
- Do exercises to warm-up such as jumping jacks or stretching
- Cover your mouth with a scarf to breathe in warmer air
- Dress appropriately
- Stay hydrated
- Take frequent breaks
- Push the snow, rather than lifting, as much as possible
- Choose an ergonomically designed shovel to avoid bending over
- If you start to feel your heart racing or if you feel numbness/pain in your arms or chest – stop shoveling immediately
If you or a loved one begins to show signs of heart trouble, or has trouble breathing after shoveling snow, call 911 immediately and seek medical care. If you have been diagnosed with heart disease or other cardiovascular issues, it is best to hire someone for snow removal.