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Shoveling Snow and Heart Health

Q: My husband often tries to get out of shoveling the snow by claiming that it's not good for his heart. Is this true?

Dr. Donnica:
It amazes me what some people will say to avoid chores! But your husband may be correct, depending upon his health history. There are more fatal heart attacks among snow shovelers after heavy snowfalls. This may be due to the sudden demand shoveling places on a previously sedentary person's heart. Snow shoveling may also increase heart rate and blood pressure. One study found after two minutes of shoveling, sedentary men's heart rates rose higher than those normally recommended for aerobic exercise. Shoveling can be more stressful in colder weather, making it harder to work and breathe.

Good news: 15 minutes of snow shoveling counts as moderate physical exercise. To get in shape, your husband may need to shovel (or do other exercise) more frequently, rather than less, IF he is in relatively good health.

Those most at risk for a heart attack should consider paying a teenager to shovel, i.e. anyone who has already had a heart attack; has a history of heart disease; has high blood pressure or cholesterol; smokes; and/or who leads a sedentary lifestyle.

Created: 5/1/2004  -  Donnica Moore, M.D.

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