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Should You Be Shoveling Snow?

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2009-12-19 15:46

Yes, the weather outside is frightful, and soon you will have to think about shoveling snow. But should you be the one doing the work? Who should and should not shovel snow, and how can you do it safely?

Every winter, approximately 1,200 Americans die from a heart attack or another type of cardiac incident during or after a snowstorm, and shoveling snow is often the triggering event. Sometimes rushing outside to remove the snow so you can get out can result in a trip you had not planned on taking—to the emergency department.

According to the Harvard Heart Letter, several things happen when people shovel snow, and they tend to place a great deal of stress on the body, especially the heart. One is that shoveling involves the arms and shoulders, and upper body exercise places strain on the heart because those muscles typically are not well conditioned. Because shoveling in an upright position causes blood to pool in the legs and feet, the heart must work harder to maintain blood pressure.

Shoveling snow is hard work, but much of it involves isometric exercise until you actually toss a shovelful of snow into a pile or up onto the bank. During isometric exercise, heart rate increases and blood vessels constrict in an attempt to send more blood to your working muscles. This causes blood pressure to rise.

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Do you hold your breath while shoveling? Many people do and do not realize it. In fact, shovelers often bear down while they hold their breath, a combination that can lead to rapid changes in blood pressure and heart beat.

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