Shoveling Snow Can Be Hazardous to Your Health

Julie Shenkman
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Health care practitioners often note that the rise and fall of hospital admission rates coincides with seasonable or periodic factors, and snowfall is one such predictor. Snow itself lends to a variety of accidents, but snow shoveling risks might be an overlooked area among medical professionals. Shoveling snow can lead to minor injuries such as muscle strain, but studies indicate that the sudden strain on the body might also increase risks for heart attacks.

A study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal ties a higher risk of heart attack and increased admissions for myocardial infarctions to times of heavy snow fall. Data showed that this trend was more prevalent among men than women, and one author of the study said researchers believed that men were more likely to shovel snow after heavy fall rates. Snow shoveling risks seemed to increase according to how much snow fell and how many days of snowfall were reported, probably due to the increased likelihood of marathon shoveling sessions among home and business owners during such times.

The study reviewed hospital admission records related to more than 128,000 cases; it also looked at data in more than 68,000 instances of deaths attributed to heart attack. The admissions and deaths ranged from 1981 through 2014. A third of heart attacks occurred within a day of recorded snowfall, according to researchers, and heart-related conditions also trended in the second and third day following snowfall. The average elevated snow shoveling risks were not seen in women.

With winter health hazards, such as falls on ice, inclement-weather car accidents and seasonal colds, already a danger for individuals, doctors and other providers can help patients mitigate snow shoveling risks with some common-sense advice. Approaching the snowy season, consider talking with patients during routine appointments about the dangers of sudden cardiovascular activity. Many people don't realize that shoveling heavy snow pushes heart rates up to 75 percent above its normal average. Individuals who are normally sedentary can reduce risks by taking numerous breaks when shoveling snow.

The topic is also a good opportunity for providers to encourage regular exercise for patients. Without regular exercise, the body loses muscle mass, experiences a rise in blood pressure and becomes less efficient at taking in oxygen. At minimum, a healthy exercise regime can reduce the chances of someone pulling a muscle or experiencing other snow shoveling risks. Coupled with a healthy diet, routine medical checkups and a common-sense approach to snow management, exercise might help patients avoid a mid-winter heart attack.

Heart-related winter health hazards aren't limited to people who already have cardiovascular or health problems. When discussing snow shoveling risks with patients, providers should reiterate that these dangers are relevant to anyone who plans to attack snow walkways or driveways after a storm.

Photo courtesy of  debspoons at


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