Toronto residents urged to take care when shovelling snow

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City of Toronto EMS paramedics urge all Toronto residents to exercise caution and common sense when shovelling snow.

"Every year our paramedics have to deal with preventable deaths from apparent heart attacks related to snow shovelling," said Bruce Farr, Chief and General Manager of Toronto EMS. "For certain people, snow shovelling may be the trigger for this sudden and silent killer. Healthy middle-aged or older men and women may be at increased risk when attempting to shovel, especially when the snow is wet and heavy."

Shovelling is a strenuous activity with physical effects equivalent to intense treadmill running. Cold weather and snow shovelling work independently to increase blood pressure and heart rate making the combination deadly.

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Inhalation of cold air can trigger constriction of the coronary arteries, diminishing oxygen supply to the heart. The increase in heart rate and blood pressure can dislodge fragments of cholesterol plaques from blood vessel walls that can lead to clots, reducing oxygen supply and possibly a heart attack.

If you are over 40 years of age and have a history of heart disease, high blood pressure or elevated cholesterol, or if you are a smoker, overweight or lead a sedentary lifestyle, you are at risk of a heart attack every time you shovel snow. If possible, consider buying a snowblower or hiring someone to shovel for you until you can improve your health and reduce your risk of suffering a heart attack.

If you decide to shovel, do warm up exercises outside (vigorous walking and some stretching) to increase your heart rate gradually and allow your body to get accustomed to the cold. When you shovel, start gradually, and avoid heavy lifting by shovelling small amounts of snow at a time. Bend your legs so that you use large muscle groups to avoid back strain. Use a small, light plastic shovel. Pace yourself and take breaks when you feel tired or out of breath.

Stop if you experience any of the following feelings or sensations:

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