Why some people should not shovel snow

While most of us survived the record snowfall that befell the East Coast this past week with only minor inconveniences, there were a few less fortunate who experienced sudden death while shoveling snow. At the University of Maryland Medical Center Coronary Care Unit, we treated a number of patients who were lucky enough to survive their heart attack after shoveling snow. Of interest is that these men and women between the ages of 45 and 65 had no prior history of heart disease, were not diabetic and thought that they were in otherwise good health. So why did these seemingly healthy middle-aged men and women suffer a heart attack? We know that when shoveling snow, we should be well hydrated, work slowly and take frequent breaks. In fact, most of our patients did just that. But the one common link they all shared was that none of them used their arm or chest muscles for exercise on a regular basis. For example, they did not swim, do daily pushups, or tone their muscles through isometric exercise.   When inactive muscle groups are suddenly asked to perform rigorous activity, the demand on the heart is great. Oxygen requirements are increased and the likelihood of plaque rupture is higher. On the other hand, toned muscles are less likely to be demanding on the heart, especially if all the proper precautions are taken. For middle-aged men and women, that means for every foot of snow on the ground to remove no more than 4-6 inches off the top at a time, drink 6-8 ounces of water and take a break every 10-15 minutes.  If you are 45 or older and do not actively exercise your arm muscles, snow shoveling is not the best time to start.

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