Don’t let a picture-perfect snowfall turn deadly.
Shoveling snow can cause heart attacks or sudden cardiac arrest in folks with heart conditions and even in those who are unaware that they have heart disease, the American Heart Association (AHA) warns.
“Shoveling snow is a very strenuous activity, made even more so by the impact that cold temperatures have on your body, increasing the blood pressure while simultaneously constricting the coronary arteries. It really is a ‘perfect storm’ for acute cardiac events,” Barry Franklin said in an AHA news release. He is the lead author of an AHA scientific statement on exercise-related heart risks.
“Among the many findings of our research, we saw that the cardiac demands of heavy snow shoveling, including marked increases in the heart rate and systolic blood pressure, could equal and exceed the upper levels achieved during maximal treadmill testing in sedentary men,” says Franklin, a professor of internal medicine at Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine in Royal Oak, Mich.
Researchers in one study found that after just two minutes of shoveling snow, participants’ heart rates topped the upper limit often prescribed for aerobic exercise testing.
“The least fit subjects demonstrated the highest heart rates during shoveling,” Franklin shares.
The dangers of shoveling
Numerous studies have flagged the dangers of shoveling snow, and the activity was included in AHA’s 2020 updated scientific statement on exercise-related acute heart events.
Franklin, a leading expert on the science behind the heart risks of snow shoveling, says hundreds of people in the United States