Has this cold, snowy winter made you want to throw in the towel - or the shovel - and head somewhere warm and sandy? Take heart, you are not alone. Now, speaking of your heart, are you doing everything you can to keep it healthy through the long, cold winter?
Winter weather can take a toll on your ticker. Cold weather can increase heart rate and blood pressure. It can make blood clot more easily and constrict arteries, which decreases blood supply. The extra stress your heart takes on while working harder to keep your body warm is linked to increased heart risks.
Dr. Noah Chelliah, cardiologist and medical director of RiverView Health’s Cardiology and Rhythm Management Services, recommends the following cold weather guidelines, especially if you have heart disease:
- Dress in multiple layers to keep warm.
- Wear a mask while working outdoors in cold temperatures.
- Shovel snow in short bursts with frequent breaks by going inside the house to warm up.
- Do not consume any alcohol.
- If you experience chest pains or shortness of breath, seek medical help immediately.
To Shovel or Not to Shovel
Now, take the cold temperatures and add the strenuous exercise associated with shoveling snow and you have the perfect storm for a heart attack.
Roughly, 11,500 people are treated in emergency rooms for snow-shoveling-related incidents each year, according to data from the Consumer Product Safety Commission. About 55 percent of the injuries are related to soft tissue injuries, followed by lacerations (16 percent), fractures (7 percent), and heart-related injuries (7 percent). On average, 100 of those injuries are fatal, generally heart attacks.
There has been debate in the news lately regarding whether or not there is an age to put the shovel down permanently. One doctor recommends anyone over 45 avoid shoveling, while another says 55 is the magic number. So, who is right?
“There is really no ‘age limit’ for shoveling,’’ Dr. Chelliah shared. “Some people can do a lot of heavy work even at 75 years when others at 45 may not be able to do as much.’’
Knowing your limit is key. Shoveling wet, heavy snow requires use of arm muscles, which for most people is more strenuous than other exercise. If you lead an otherwise sedentary lifestyle, you could find yourself overtaxing your system, which could lead to deadly consequences.
Shoveling After COVID-19
The health problems associated with shoveling are real, even when we are not in a global pandemic with an illness that affects the respiratory system. People who have had COVID-19 need to be even more careful while clearing snow.
Those who have had the virus, even if they did not know they had it, are at high risk for heart issues when over-exerting themselves. What was just a little bit of physical activity pre-COVID can set off adverse issues like heart failure, rhythm disturbances, and sudden cardiac arrest for those who are post-COVID.
Above all else, listen to your body when working outside and shoveling. If you feel pain and discomfort anywhere above the belly button – it could be in your back, neck, or jaw – that could be an indication your heart is not getting enough blood and oxygen and you should stop shoveling immediately and seek care.
If you have experienced any of these issues in the past, talk to your primary care provider about having a stress test done at RiverView Health or make an appointment with Dr. Chelliah.
Dr. Chelliah works to diagnose cardiovascular diseases such as congenital heart defects, coronary artery disease, heart rhythm disorders, and heart failure. Along with cardiology consultation, Dr. Chelliah performs cardiac procedures including pacemaker implants, cardiac defibrillator implants, and Biventricular pacemaker implants.
To make an appointment with Dr. Chelliah, call RiverView Health at 281.9595.