Take care of your heart when shovelling snow
THUNDER BAY – Living – Most Northern Ontarians know how awful it is to wake up in the morning and find that it has snowed several inches throughout the night. It’s a responsibility that we’ve gotten accustomed to. But when we’re shoveling snow, the risk of a heart attack isn’t at the forefront of our minds when we’re in a hurry to clear the driveway. The truth is that shoveling snow is extremely strenuous on the body.
Without taking proper precautions before shoveling snow, the risk of heart attack increases. According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, 9 in 10 Canadians have at least one risk factor for heart disease and stroke. These risk factors include: smoking, alcohol consumption, decreased physical activity, obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes. Individuals who are older, have high blood pressure, have a family history of heart disease, smoke or live a sedentary lifestyle are at highest risk for injury or having a heart attack while shoveling snow.
A heart attack occurs when blood flow to the heart is blocked by a blood clot or a plaque and it results in damage and death to the cardiac muscle. Cold weather and strenuous exercise have been associated with the blood becoming thicker, which increases the chance of a blood clot forming. Therefore, shoveling snow can be a recipe for disaster if you don’t take the proper precautions.
Before shoveling, try to avoid caffeine and nicotine. Both of these substances are stimulants that put extra stress on the heart. They also narrow the blood vessels, which decreases blood flow everywhere in the body. Try to drink plenty of water before and during shoveling, to decrease the chance of dehydration. Warm up for 5-10 minutes to increase blood circulation and to loosen up joints and muscles. Try going up and down the stairs a few times, jogging on the spot or going for a walk around the block. After warming up, perform some gentle body stretches to make sure that your body is ready to exercise. Once you start, try to take breaks every 15 minutes or so to give your body a break.
If you feel like you might be at risk for a heart attack while shoveling snow, consult your doctor. It might also be helpful to be aware of the symptoms of a heart attack. Symptoms include: pain or uncomfortable pressure in the chest that lasts longer than a few minutes, pain or discomfort in the jaw and one or both arms, back pain, shortness of breath with or without chest pain, cold sweats, nausea and lightheadedness. Some heart attacks happen quickly, or some happen gradually with mild pain and discomfort. At any sign of a heart attack, call 911 immediately.
Shoveling snow can be a great form of physical activity when the proper precautions are taken. Take care of your body and have a safe and healthy winter.
By Katelyn Brouse, Laurentian University Nursing Student Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers Inc. Sudbury (OHCOW) If you would like any additional information, please do not hesitate to contact OHCOW at 705-523-2330 or toll free at 1-800-461-7120