“Hola. I’ll have a mojito, hold the sugar and add a shot of Schadenfreude, por favor.” That’s how I began my family get-away in sunny Cancun. It was 29 C. as I leisurely sipped my cocktail, channelling the spirit of the quintessential pampered Jewish princess that I aspire to be, and occasionally am.
It had been an unusually balmy autumn in Ottawa – so warm that on December 11, and again on December 24, I went for a 10-km run in a tank top and short pants. I’d been wanting to write an article about winter sports, but winter weather hadn’t arrived. The lawns were still green when I departed for Mexico on December 26. I was feeling like a trip to a hot climate wasn’t mentally necessary since there was no cold to escape.
Winter finally blew in to Ottawa with a vengeance a couple of days later and with it came the first snowstorm of the season. With the beach as my backdrop, I excitedly posted gratuitous selfies to Facebook. After all, isn’t social media for sharing corny inspirational posters, photos of adorable animals, and bragging about what a wonderful time you’re having?
I was able to keep abreast of the Ottawa weather and news via my cell phone. I wanted to write on my trip, but it didn’t seem authentic to be writing about snowshoeing or skiing as I was gazing at the Caribbean Sea contemplating whether to do yoga on the beach or aqua fitness in the infinity pool.
One day, I read the sad news that two Ottawa-area men had suffered heart attacks while removing snow. One had been shovelling; the other had been using a snow blower. Removing snow is very physically demanding and can be an excellent form of exercise. However, it can also be life-threatening. I decided to do some research and share what I found out. My aim was to possibly prevent someone from having a heart attack.
Hundreds of adults die each year in Canada and the United States after suffering a heart attack during or soon after shovelling snow. Weekend warriors – typically sedentary, middle-aged men – put themselves at increased risk for heart attacks when they occasionally engage in strenuous physical activity to which they are unaccustomed. Women are not immune to the strain on the heart that snow shovelling places. Suddenly moving and lifting hundreds of pounds of snow when you’re normally inactive is unwise.
If you’re planning on shovelling snow this winter or using a snow blower, you should ask your doctor if it’s a safe activity for you. The American Heart Association states shovelling snow is safe for most people, but warns this activity may increase the risk for some people.
Patrick J. Skerrett, former executive editor of Harvard Health, confirms that “cold weather can boost blood pressure, interrupt blood flow to part of the heart, and make blood more likely to form clots.” This can block blood flow, leading to a heart attack. http://tinyurl.com/zdfyb74
Did you know that it’s not only inactive people, older people or those with health issues who are at risk for a cardiac event while shovelling? American cardiologist Dr. Barry Franklin studied healthy young men and found that their heart rate and blood pressure increased more when shovelling snow than when sprinting on a treadmill. He points out that the arm work required by snow shovelling can cause an additional surge in the heart rate and blood pressure. http://tinyurl.com/mkq6vrm
If you do shovel, follow these safety tips: Warm up first for at least five minutes with something such as dynamic stretching or marching on the spot. Take your time. Rest every few minutes. Don’t overfill the shovel. Push rather than lift the snow. Don’t smoke or eat a heavy meal right before shovelling as it can put an extra load on your heart. Stay hydrated with water. Dress in layers and wear a hat since hypothermia can contribute to heart failure. As with any exercise, don’t hold your breath as it can spike blood pressure.
If you feel dizzy, light-headed, nauseous, anxious, short of breath, break out into a cold sweat, or you have unusual pain in your chest, arm or jaw, stop immediately and call 911. Symptoms of heart attacks vary from person to person and may be different in men and women. For more information, visit www.heartandstroke.com.
Consider paying for a snow removal service. It might save your life.