When we think of extreme winter sports, activities like ski jumping, ice climbing and snow kiting come to mind. But with severe winter storms bearing down on Canada and the northern US, a potentially more dangerous activity emerges – snow removal!
With each inch of snow accumulation, the risk of injury from falls, overexertion and even heart attacks increases.
Shoveling – An Extreme Winter Sport?
Did you know:
- The risk of having a heart attack is higher in days after heavy snow, especially for men?
- Following 20 cm snowfalls, the risk of men being admitted to the hospital or dying increases by 16% and 34% respectively, compared to other days?
- This risk is even higher after two to three consecutive days of snowfall?
These are the findings of a study published by the Canadian Medical Association Journal in which researchers at the University of Montreal made an astonishing, but very real link between heart attacks and snow storms. When we add falls and related injuries, shoveling could easily be considered an extreme winter sport.
Snow Removal – An Attack on Health
Why does shoveling snow increase the risk of heart attack? In an article published in The Conversation, Professor Jack Goodman of the University of Toronto explains:
- First and obviously, it is typically performed in cold weather. Cold air inhalation may cause a reflex constriction of blood vessels, including the coronary arteries. Cold air may also increase the blood’s propensity for clotting.
- The second issue is the nature of the exercise – and snow shoveling is unique. It is typically done without a warm-up and includes considerable arm work. Each time you thrust the snow, the arms rise high, increasing blood pressure further.
- Finally, there is a natural tendency to generate lots of chest pressure without exhaling (like tennis players do when they hit a ball, or when you push hard against something), which further increases blood pressure.
Heart-Safe Approach to Snow Removal
For those of us in Canada and the upper US, removing snow from driveways, sidewalks and our roofs is a necessity. When it comes to removing snow, especially from the rooftop, it is rarely recommended that you climb on the roof and shovel. With innovative snow removal tools, like SnowPeeler, rooftops can be safely and quickly cleared with both feet on the ground.
As for heart-safe tips to keep you safe and healthy this winter, Harvard Medical School recommends the following:
- Warm up your muscles before starting.
- Shovel many light loads instead of fewer heavy ones.
- Take frequent breaks.
- Drink plenty of water.
- Don’t feel that you need to clear every speck of snow from your property.
- Head indoors right away if your chest starts hurting, you feel lightheaded or short of breath, your heart starts racing, or some other physical change makes you nervous.
If you think you are having a heart attack, call 911 or your local emergency number.
And if it’s your back that is specifically hurting after you clear snow, consider these top 5 tips for warding off back pain from shovelling.