Snow shoveling and falling temps pose heart health risks

Posted at 2:21 PM, Jan 25, 2019
and last updated 2019-01-25 15:10:00-05

WEST MICHIGAN — The temperatures are falling and so is snow, so the American Heart Association is reminding everyone of the potential dangers of snow shoveling.

The American Heart Association (AHA) advises caution during cold temperatures. Taking care to avoid hypothermia and potential heart attacks are vitally important this time of year, especially for anyone with cardiovascular disease.

For many, handling the snow is just another winter day in Michigan, but for those who aren’t physically conditioned for the exertion, seemingly simple tasks can pose several dangers.

People with coronary heart disease are warned to not exert themselves during the cold weather. Pay attention to chest pain or discomfort.

Hypothermia happens when the body cannot maintain a temperature at or above 95 degrees Fahrenheit and can be deadly. According to the AHA, symptoms include lack of coordination, mental confusion, slowed reactions, shivering and sleepiness.

Conditions such as high winds, low temperatures, and snowy or rainy days can all act on their own to bring down the body temperature when a person is exposed. In combination, they increase the risks exponentially. Wearing layers is essential to keeping warm and avoiding hypothermia.

In order to avoid any adverse effects, the AHA makes the following recommendations:

  • Give yourself a break. Take frequent rest breaks during shoveling so you don’t overstress your heart. Pay attention to how your body feels during those breaks.
  • Learn the heart attack warning signs and listen to your body, but remember this: Even if you’re not sure it’s a heart attack, have it checked out (tell a doctor about your symptoms). Minutes matter! Fast action can save lives — maybe your own. Don’t wait to call 9-1-1
  • Don’t drink alcoholic beverages before or immediately after shoveling. Alcohol may increase a person’s sensation of warmth and may cause them to underestimate the extra strain their body is under in the cold.
  • Consult a doctor if you have a medical concern or question or if you are experiencing symptoms of a medical condition (such as heart disease or diabetes), prior to exercising in cold weather – especially if this is a substantial increase over your usual level of activity.
  • Be aware of the dangers of hypothermia. To prevent hypothermia, dress in layers of warm clothing, which traps air between layers forming a protective insulation. Wear a hat because much of your body’s heat can be lost through your head.
  • Learn CPR. Effective bystander CPR, provided immediately after sudden cardiac arrest, can double or triple a victim’s chance of survival. Hands-only CPR makes it easier than ever to save a life. If an adult suddenly collapses, call 9-1-1 and begin pushing hard and fast in the middle of the victim’s chest until help arrives.