Cardiologist urges caution when shoveling snow

CEDAR RAPIDS– With the arrival of the first measurable snowfall of the year, it’s a good time for a reminder about basic snow shoveling safety measures, especially for those at risk for heart attacks.

According to the American Heart Association, many people are not conditioned to physical stress and do not know the dangers of being outdoors in cold weather. Physical exertion, particularly snow shoveling, in frigid weather can result in back strain, muscles aches and, even more significant, sudden heart attacks.

Dr. Cam Campbell, Cardiologist, Cedar Rapids Heart Center, P.C., and Medical Director of Cardiovascular Services at Mercy Medical Center, says shoveling snow can be an extremely strenuous activity that stresses the body’s cardiovascular system.

“Shoveling snow is often viewed as a normal household chore, but for those who have risk factors such as high cholesterol, diabetes, hypertension, or are smokers, it can be lethal,” says Campbell.  “The physical demands of snow shoveling can cause the heart to pump blood faster, while the low temperature constricts the arteries. That combination may trigger the plaque in the arteries to rupture in individuals who have Coronary Artery Disease, leading to a heart attack.”

Campbell offers these tips to avoid heart-related stress or injury when shoveling.

  • Avoid eating, drinking and smoking before shoveling, because all of these  activities make the heart work harder and constrict blood vessels.

  • Exercise moderately in preparation for snow shoveling.

  • Shovel early, before the snow packs down and becomes heavy and more difficult to shovel.

  • Dress warmly to protect the heart from the danger of narrowing of the arteries.

  • Stop frequently to rest. Five minutes rest for every 15 minutes of shoveling is recommended.

  • If conditions are icy, spread salt or sand over the area to avoid slipping and falling.

Campbell says those with heart risk factors may want to check with their doctor before shoveling snow or have someone else clear the drive.

If you or someone you know exhibits symptoms of a heart attack, call 911 immediately.

If you’d like to know more about your own risk factors for heart disease, Mercy Medical Center offers a Heart2Heart assessment.  Call (319) 213-1573 for more information or visit

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