Far be it from us to be fearmongers, but it’s true. About 100 people die in the U.S. every year during everybody’s favorite form of exercise: snow shoveling. But why is that? A study from researchers at the U.S. Nationwide Children’s Hospital looked at data from across a 17-year span from 1990-2006. During that time, there were 1,647 cardiac-related deaths related to snow shoveling.
Barry Franklin, director of preventative cardiology and cardiac rehabilitation at William Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, MI, says, “I believe we lose hundreds of people each year because of this activity.” Much more than what was documented in the Children’s Hospital study.
The physiology of snow shoveling involves increases in heart rate and blood pressure that are greater than what is seen when running on a treadmill. Franklin continues, “Combine this with cold air, which causes arteries to constrict and decrease blood supply, you have a perfect storm for a heart attack.”
Whereas most exercises in which we commonly partake primarily rely heavily on the legs, the arm work of snow shoveling seems particularly taxing to our bodies. When we strain to lift snow, particularly the wet and heavy stuff, it is more likely to prompt a sudden surge in heart rate and blood pressure.
To further complicate the matter, many people—who knows why?—also hold their breath while shoveling snow. This reduces oxygen flow at a time when the body needs it most, further taxing the cardiac system. The cherry on the sundae is that the most common time for snow shoveling is between 6 a.m. and 10 a.m., which is usually when our natural circadian fluctuations render us more vulnerable to heart attacks.
In fact, Franklin believes snow shoveling can be such a dangerous activity, that he recommends people ages 55+ should refrain from doing it.
He says, “People at greatest risk are those who are habitually sedentary with known or suspected coronary disease, who go out once a year to clear snow.” He added that smoking and obesity, predictably, increase the risk of heart attack by quite a bit. Finally, he recommended that, if you must shovel snow, try to push the snow instead of lift it; allow yourself regular breaks; dress in layers; and, don’t smoke or even eat right before you start shoveling.
At E.P.M., we are big advocates of smart shoveling. Plan ahead. Take breaks when you need them. Shovel lesser amounts of snow more frequently rather than waiting to shovel a huge amount all at once.
Of course, if you or someone you know is in need of commercial snow shoveling services, don’t hesitate to contact us online or give us a call at (517) 990-0110 today!