Snow: A hazard for your heart

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

By: William Witmer, MD

Now that snow is here, it’s time to review its hazards and what they mean to your heart.


Shoveling, snow blowing and even walking in heavy snow can strain the heart enough to cause a heart attack. How does this happen? Vigorous activity generates an increase in blood pressure and heart rate, couple that with cold air which causes blood vessels to constrict, decreasing amount of oxygen to the heart, and you have created a lower threshold for a cardiac event, or myocardial infarction (heart attack).


What makes you at higher risk for a cardiovascular event? A previous heart attack or heart disease, history of smoking, high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, family history of heart disease, diabetes and a sedentary lifestyle can all put you at a higher alert.


Snow hazard for your heart


What steps can be taken to possibly avoid a heart attack? Avoid eating a heavy meal before shoveling.  Blood flow is shunted to your stomach and away from your heart. Avoid smoking as it can strain the heart by causing an increase in heart rate and blood pressure. Also, early morning shoveling has been linked to an increase risk as blood pressure surges. You should start slow, rest frequently and make sure you are hydrated.


Experiencing symptoms such as lightheadedness, dizziness, shortness of breath, chest pain or pain in the neck or arms warrants being checked out by a physician immediately.


Lastly, don’t forget to keep up with a healthy and active lifestyle when the snow flies.  Keep walking if possible and consider taking up winter hobbies such as cross country skiing or snowshoeing.  If getting outside isn’t for you, join a local fitness club for daily visits or consider purchasing a treadmill or exercise bike for in your home. Another great idea for winter is to take up yoga for daily exercise. This can be done at local centers or at home using DVDs or internet classes.

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BayCare Clinic,, is the largest physician-owned specialty-care clinic in northeastern Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. It is based in Green Bay, Wisconsin. BayCare Clinic offers expertise in more than 20 specialties, with more than 100 physicians serving in 16 area communities. BayCare Clinic is a joint partner in Aurora BayCare Medical Center, a 167-bed, full-service hospital. Follow BayCare Clinic on Facebook and Twitter.