Dr. Charles Davidson, clinical chief of cardiology at Northwestern Memorial Hospital and medical director at Northwestern's Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute in Chicago, said patients need to understand their risk for heart disease prior to undertaking snow shoveling.
"It has a profound effect on both the heart rate and blood pressure," Davidson said in a statement. "In people with risk factors for heart disease, this activity may be putting them at risk for very serious heart problems including heart attacks."
Well-known risk factors for heart disease include smoking, being age 50 and older, diabetes, hypertension, elevated cholesterol and a family history of heart disease, Davidson said. Being relatively inactive or obese are also factors that may further add to their risk of heart disease.
People with risk factors should discuss snow shoveling with their physician and if medical clearance is given, consider the following precautions:
-- Push, instead of lift and use a small shovel, which encourages smaller loads of snow.
-- If you begin to feel winded or overexerted while shoveling, take a break. These are signs that you're doing more than your body can handle.
-- If you experience shortness of breath, chest, throat or arm discomfort or tightness, or lightheadedness, you should rest and seek medical attention if the symptoms persist.
-- Snow is easier to shovel when it first falls, the longer snow sits the heavier it gets.