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Winter safety: How shovelling snow can lead to heart attacks

Dalia Ibrahim
Digital Reporter

Tuesday, December 12, 2017, 9:53 AM - Glistening, white snow may be stuff of greeting cards, but to cardiologists, it's a heart attack waiting to happen.

Visit our Complete Guide to Winter 2017/18 for tips on how to to survive it, and much more.

Shovelling the white stuff can not only hurt your back, but it can also be hard on your heart. 

Heart attacks during shovelling usually occur when people rush to clear a heavy amount of snow.

On January 29, an elderly man collapsed while shovelling snow in his driveway in Etobicoke, Ontario. When paramedics arrived he was showing no vital signs and later died.

So just how dangerous can this act of outdoor winter labour be?

Health officials say blood vessels are tighter in the cold weather, making it harder for blood to pass through them. Combine that with the stress of physical activity, and it can mean disaster for some unsuspecting shovellers. 

RELATED: Weathering the winter woes


According to MetroHealth, patients who have a known heart disease condition, have high blood pressure, high cholesterol and/or are smokers are at highest risk of a heart attack while shovelling snow. 

The Heart and Stroke Foundation recommends that anyone who has ever had a heart attack, stroke, or heart surgery should have someone else do the shovelling or should speak to their doctor before taking on such a task.

SEE ALSO: Getting a grip on winter driving


While shovelling the snow, watch for the following warning signs: 

  • Lightheadedness 
  • Dizziness 
  • Being short of breath 
  • Tightness or burning in chest, neck, arms or back

If you experience any of these warnings signs while shovelling, sit down and rest. If the feeling continues for more than a few minutes call 911.

HEALTH MINUTE: Kids and winter weather


  • Be sure to talk to your doctor before tackling the snow
  • Avoid shoveling immediately after you waking up in the morning as most heart attacks occur early in the morning when blood is more prone to clotting. Wait for at least 30 minutes and warm up.
  • Do not eat heavy meal before shoveling: blood gets diverted form the heart to the stomach.
  • Warm up your muscles before starting by walking for a few minutes or marching in place.
  • Do not drink coffee or smoke for at least one hour before or one hour after shoveling or during breaks. 

These are stimulants and elevate your blood pressure and heart rate

RECOMMENDED: STUDY: Sunlight may lower blood pressure


  • Use a small shovel: shovel many small loads instead of heavy ones. 
  • Begin slowly and take frequent, 15 minute breaks. 
  • Drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration Dress in layers, to avoid hypothermia (low body temperature) or overheating.
  • Cover your head and neck (50% body heat lost through head and neck).
  • Cover your mouth (breathing cold air can cause angina or trigger breathing problems.

Source: The Heart and Stroke Foundation, MetroHealth.org

WATCH: Our full winter 2017/2018 forecast revealed

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