back to top

    Shovelling snow from the sidewalk is not always good for the heart

    With the onset of winter, the American Heart Association (AHA) has warned cardiac patients against carelessly shovelling snow from a driveway or sidewalk. They emphasize that shovelling snow is a high-intensity effort that, especially in the context of cold temperatures, can lead to a cardiovascular disease. So, if you have a cardiovascular disorder shovel snow wisely or ask a neighbour,” American researchers advise.

    “Shoveling snow can be compared to peak effort during an exercise test, so it puts a significant strain on the heart. And if someone, who generally hardly moves, is shovelling snow, the risk of a heart attack is high for they,”

    warns cardiologist Luke Laffin of the Cleveland Clinic.

    Barry Franklin, the author of the AHA’s warning to cardiac patients about the risks of shovelling snow, pointed out an additional weather-related factor in the warning. Low temperatures cause an increase in systolic pressure while blood vessels contract. According to him, hundreds of people, who have taken to shovelling snow quickly and recklessly with a diseased heart, die each year in the United States.

    Polish cardiologist Prof. Artur Mamcarz, head of the III Department of Internal Medicine and Cardiology at the Faculty of Medicine of Warsaw Medical University, stresses, however, that in people who usually do not move, each intense exercise significantly increases cardiovascular risk.

    If someone has been sitting at home for months on end, and all of a sudden it snows and that person sets out to quickly shovel snow from the sidewalk or driveway, indeed, the amount of physical exertion is then so great that it generates an increased cardiovascular risk. In other words, it’s about making an effort that is inadequate to the body’s capabilities. Anyway, this is not specifically about snow. This risk is also high when loading coal into the basement, for example,” says Prof. Mamcarz.

    So, what advice do we have for cardiac (and non-cardiac) people?

    The professor emphasizes that you should move all year round. Be reasonable about it, of course, so if you’ve had a myocardial infarction – according to individual recommendations from a medical professional.

    “Physical activity is not only a preventive measure but also a cure,”

    he emphasizes.

    He adds that someone diagnosed with heart issues should follow their doctor’s advice, which includes taking prescribed medications, eating a proper diet and physical activity. Cleveland Clinic experts suggest shovelling reasonably, which means: 

    • Do it slowly.
    • If you feel tired, take a break and rest. In general, it’s a good idea to take frequent breaks during a big effort like shovelling snow
    • Drink water! It’s essential.
    • If you have trouble breathing, or pain in your back, chest – call an ambulance 
    • If you are struggling with several medical conditions (e.g., obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart failure) and are over 55 years old – ask a neighbour to shovel your snow. And sign up for fitness-appropriate exercise for yourself – who knows, maybe next winter you can shovel snow yourself.

    More in section