For most of us, snow removal is an inconvenience that usually results in a runny nose, sore muscles, or at worst, a sore back. But some of us aren’t so lucky. Every year, approximately 100 men suffer from a heart attack during or just after shoveling, and many more head to the ER with chest pain or other cardiovascular concerns. Removing loads of heavy snow can be quite an intense workout that the heart muscle may not be ready for, especially first thing in the morning, and especially in those that don’t regularly engage in physical activity. The cold temperature compounds the problem by increasing blood clotting and blood pressure, resulting in a devastating perfect storm.
Here in Massachusetts, we just had our first heavy snowfall. Tragically, a truly great guy from my high school graduating class lost his life after shoveling out his home. He left behind a beautiful wife and two wonderful kids. It’s a tragedy that should never happen.
Whether you’re a couch potato or in good physical condition, it’s important to warm up before shoveling or snow blowing. Do some stretches, jumping jacks, march in place, sun salutations, ride your exercise bike, or walk on your treadmill if you have one. Don’t go out there cold and half asleep – your cardiovascular system may not be ready for the Herculean effort. Make it easier on yourself! Opt for smaller, lighter loads over heavy ones that make you strain (you’ll save your back too!). And just like any other long workout, stay hydrated and take breaks. This is not an exaggeration.
Getting regular exercise throughout the year will also help you stay strong, healthy, and resilient, even when faced with a mountain of snow. If you currently have risk factors for cardiovascular disease, you might want to consider hiring your neighborhood kid to do the dirty work until you improve your health and lifestyle.
Please spread the word – it could save a life.
Dedicated to Cavie and his family.
Image credit: Todd Trapani