Shoveling snow can put your heart at risk: Doctor shares what to watch out for


DETROIT – Unless you’re new to Michigan, snow shouldn’t be a big surprise -- even in large amounts.

What may be a surprise to some people is that even if you’ve dealt with it before, the first large snowfall of the season is especially dangerous.

The simple reason the first snow is the most dangerous is that your heart is nearly a year older than the last time you shoveled a bunch of snow.

Read: Metro Detroit weather: New look at projected snow totals, how winter storm could play out

Unless you’ve had a recent stress test, you’re about to get one that you don’t want to fail. Shoveling snow is stressful on your heart, your blood pressure, and your heart rate.

“We do see a higher number of patients the second day after the snow,” said Dr. Sam Kazziha, the Chief of Cardiovascular Services at Henry Ford Macomb Hospital. “Snow can be really an inducer or a cause for a heart attack, no question about it.”

Even before you start shoveling, just being in the cold begins to challenge your body. Breathing in cold air can constrict your airways, at the same time your skin is diverting blood to conserve heat. All those things increase the burden on your heart.

Then you begin to shovel.

“When you’re shoveling snow, blood pressure can go up significantly higher. You also, your heart rate can go higher -- specifically, if you are deconditioned or you have not been doing exercise regularly,” Kazziha said.

Treat shoveling like you would any serious exercise. Warm up first, avoid drinking alcohol, and don’t shovel after eating a meal.

Read: List of snow emergencies as major winter storm approaches Southeast Michigan

“For people who are interested in shoveling snow should not do it the first thing in the morning because this is the highest rate of a heart attack,” Kazziha said.

Some of the warning signs that you should take a break or even stop include difficulty breathing, chest discomfort, jaw, upper back or pain radiating into your arms, nausea, or lightheadedness.

“Bring somebody else to do it for you, don’t put yourself at risk if you know you are at high risk and if you’re going to do it -- do it in segments and in short periods,” Kazziha said.

Most people don’t really think about how much weight you’re moving when you clear a driveway. One foot of settled snow on a 15 by 30-foot driveway comes out to about 3 or 4 tons of snow, so take your time.

Doctors still see heart attacks when people are using snowblowers.

Click here for complete coverage on the February 2022 snowstorm.

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