Q & A Library
Hazards of Shoveling Snow?
I've just moved to the northeast from southern California. What's all this fuss about shoveling snow? Can it really kill you?
Answer (Published 3/8/2011)
Originally published March 8, 2011.
Yes. In fact, every year an estimated 1,200 individuals die of heart attacks or other cardiac event during a blizzard, and shoveling snow is often to blame. This activity places great demands on the heart – not a problem for healthy individuals, but potentially dangerous for those with coronary artery disease, a condition that may be undiagnosed in many people. Researchers at North Dakota State University have reported that based on the increase in heart rate it causes, shoveling was a moderately intense activity for college-age individuals most of the time but for about one third of the 14 minutes they shoveled their activity qualified as vigorous.
At greatest risk of a heart attack while snow shoveling are those who already have had a heart attack or a history of heart disease, as well as individuals with high blood pressure or high cholesterol levels, smokers, and anyone leading a sedentary lifestyle. If you’re in any of those categories, talk to your physician before attempting to shovel snow. Anyone who does it should follow these precautions from the North Dakota State Extension Service:
If you’re fit, shoveling for 15 minutes ranks as moderate physical activity.
Andrew Weil, M.D.
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