Friday, December 17, 2010

It's Snow Joke

The weather outside is frightful...that’s right folks! It’s that time of year when the temperature drops below zero and those lovely snow flakes begin to fall.

This is a beautiful time of year, and usually a happy one for most, but for others it’s not. You see, the holiday season brings with it snow, which for some equals a trip to the emergency room. Aside from the number of people who injure their backs shoveling, the bigger concern is heart attacks. 

 Did you know that shoveling snow is a strenuous activity that should not be taken lightly? Persons with high cholesterol should be extremely cautious if they must shovel snow.
I read recently that some 72,000 emergency room visits each year are associated with snow-removal injuries. And even more alarming, as little as an inch of snowfall and temperatures below 20 degrees can cause the death rate to triple among men 35 to 49 years old.


Doctors have long known that cold weather in general is hard on the heart and cardiovascular system. Blood pressure can rise as vessels narrow to conserve the body’s heat. This forces your heart to work harder to get blood to your extremities. Blood also clots more easily when it’s cold. This can be particularly dangerous if you have a small plaque rupture in a heart vessel wall (and some of us have them frequently but just don’t know it).

In addition, any challenging physical activity that you haven’t trained for is perceived by your body as stress, and that spurs the release of blood-thickening and vessel-constricting adrenalines. The amount of adrenaline that is released depends on your physical fitness level, however. The more fit you are, the less this high-intensity exercise will induce a large peak in adrenaline output and the safer you will be.

Needless to say, if you are not in shape or have other risk factors, cold weather can put a real strain on the heart. And when you add in strenuous exercise like shoveling snow, it can trigger a deadly heart attack.  

And make no mistake, shoveling is definitely strenuous. A few years ago, researchers at Michigan State did a study where they monitored the vital statistics of healthy 20- to 30-year-old men who ran on treadmills until they couldn’t run anymore. A few days later, the same group was asked to shovel heavy snow for about 10 minutes. The results are worth noting: The group’s heart rates were at least as high, and in some cases higher, while shoveling than they were on the treadmill. And these guys were young and fit.
People who rarely exercise can be up to 30 times more likely to have a heart attack when they do something exerting such as shoveling snow. As the Michigan study shows, shoveling can be a physical challenge for anyone, but some people are more at risk of cardiac arrest than others and should always check with their doctor before even contemplating a session with a snow shovel. This includes individuals who fall into the following categories and have:

* Already had a heart attack
* A history of heart disease
* High blood pressure or high cholesterol
* A smoking habit
* A sedentary lifestyle
Even if you don’t fit into the highest risk group, it’s only smart to take some sensible precautions before you head out to deal with winter’s latest assault. Here are a few tips I think are important to heed:
Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water since dehydration while physically exerting yourself can be as dangerous in the winter as the summer. Avoid caffeine (and nicotine!), which are stimulants and may increase your heart rate or cause your blood vessels to constrict.
• Dress sensibly. You’ll want to be warm, but not sweaty or overheated. Wearing layers is a good idea because you can then remove a layer as needed. Light-weight, sweat-wicking modern fabrics are a good choice.
Warm up indoors first. Before you head out, walk or march in place and stretch a bit to get your blood circulating. Once outside, start slowly with light shovel loads, which will
help to open up your arteries gradually.

Shovel smart and in sessions. Attack the job in stages; newly fallen snow tends to be lighter than when it’s deeper and more heavily packed. Remove the snow in layers, 2 inches at a time. And take frequent rests. As a rule of thumb, you should aim for a 5-minute break for every 15 minutes of shovel work.
Listen to your body. If you observe any signs of cardiac distress or a heart attack, you need to stop shoveling immediately, call 911, and chew an aspirin. These signs may include chest, shoulder, arm, or neck pain; dizziness, fainting, sweating or nausea; or shortness of breath.

When it comes to a strenuous activity like snow shoveling, this is no time to prove how tough or self-reliant you can be. Friends, family, snow-blowing neighbors, or a snow-removal service will be more than happy to shovel for you. And just think, with some sensible foresight, you’ll have a much better chance of enjoying the first pristine snowfall next year and maybe create a first-rate snowman yourself.

1 comment:

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