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Shovelling snow associated with elevated risk of heart attack in men

Snow shovelling

If you’re looking for a reason to skip shovelling the deck, a recently published study might be the only excuse you need.

Researchers from the University of Montreal Hospital Research Centre looked at records of 128,000 patients admitted to the hospital for a heart attack between 1981 and 2014, which revealed that men were at a higher risk of having a myocardial infarction after a heavy snowfall. They found no changes, however, in a woman’s risk of heart attack, which the researchers say might be because men are more likely to shovel than women, particularly after heavy snowfalls. 

According to the study, which was published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, just eight inches of snowfall raised a man’s risk of heart attack by 16 percent. Men were also one-third more likely to die of a heart attack the day after an eight-inch snowfall than on a dry day.

“We suspect that shovelling was the main mechanism linking snowfall with myocardial infarction,” the study’s lead author, Dr. Nathalie Auger, wrote. That’s because shovelling snow is not only a demanding activity that can sometimes require more than 75 percent of a person’s maximum heart rate, it’s also often the first form of physical activity many people have done in months.

According to Harvard Health, the cold weather also plays a part by constricting your blood vessels. This can boost your blood pressure, interrupt blood flow to the heart, and make blood clots more likely. 

Unfortunately, it’s not the best excuse to get yourself a snowblower, since the study didn’t just focus on those using shovels. Your best bet is to practice safer snow removal. 

You probably already know how important it is to choose an ergonomic shovel, lift the snow properly, tackle the job in stages, and take breaks to prevent injuries while shovelling. To also reduce your risk of a heart attack, the U.S. National Safety Council advises taking it slow, avoiding shovelling after eating or while smoking, and stopping if you feel any dizziness or tightness in your chest.