UK HealthCare

Tips to Minimize Risk of Heart Attack While Shoveling Snow

shoveling snow
Photo credit: Miriam Doerr, iStock / Getty Images Plus

The University of Kentucky Public Relations & Strategic Communications Office provides a weekly health column available for use and reprint by news media. This week's column is by Dr. David Booth, cardiologist at the Gill Heart & Vascular Institute at UK HealthCare.

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Jan. 24, 2022) – Whenever Kentucky is blanketed by snow, many of us will spend time digging out. However, before you grab your snow shovel, you should take a moment to think about your heart.

Shoveling snow can increase the risk of a heart attack. The combination of colder temperatures and an uptick in physical exertion can restrict blood flow and increase blood pressure. This puts a strain on the heart, increasing the risk of a heart attack.

To help keep you safe and minimize risk, we recommend taking the following precautions:

  • People over the age of 55, or those who are relatively inactive, should be especially careful.
  • If you have heart trouble, do not shovel without a doctor’s permission.
  • Do not shovel after eating or while smoking.
  • Pace yourself. Be sure to stretch out and warm up just like you would before any exercise.
  • Push the snow as you shovel and do not pick up too much at once. Lift with bent legs, not your back.
  • Do not work to the point of exhaustion. If you run out of breath, head inside and take a break.
  • Cover your face and mouth with a scarf. Inhaling cold air can constrict your arteries and increase your blood pressure, which can increase your risk of a heart attack.

Often people are unaware of the signs of a heart attack, which may cause them to wait too long before getting help. If you experience any of the warning signs below, please contact emergency medical services immediately.

  • Chest discomfort. Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes, or that goes away and comes back. It can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain.
  • Discomfort in other areas of the upper body. Symptoms can include pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
  • Shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort.
  • Like men, women’s most common heart attack symptom is chest pain or discomfort. But women are somewhat more likely than men to experience some of the other common symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting, and back or jaw pain.

Prioritizing your heart health is vital. By taking the proper precautions and being aware of the warning signs, you can reduce your risk of heart attack, and keep yourself safe and healthy this winter.

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