Nor'easter Fears: ‘Heart Attack Snow' & Other Health Problems

Wet, heavy snow can create a dangerous situation when trying to remove it.

Winter refuses to leave without a fight.

Another powerful storm is heading toward our region, promising to dump several inches of wet, heavy snow Tuesday into Wednesday.

NBC10 First Alert meteorologists are calling it “heart attack” conditions because the mixture of rain and snow will make precipitation extra dense and difficult to shovel.

"It's really a pain to get rid of," NBC10 First Alert meteorologist Steve Sosna said. 

Medical experts also warn that overexerting yourself while clearing walkways could pose a serious health risk.

"Shoveling heavy, wet snow is comparable to a maximum stress test," said Dr. Vincent Figueredo, chair of cardiology at Philadelphia’s Einstein Medical Center. “That’s OK if you work out regularly and you’re used to having an elevated heart rate.”

If you’re not, be careful.

“Acute exercise can lead to increased heart rate and blood pressure,” Dr. Figueredo explained.

People not accustomed to high intensity exercise should make sure to warm up, stretch and move slowly when clearing walkways. Consider using a small shovel to limit weight. Also, cover your mouth and don’t breath in too much winter air.

“Cold air can cause restriction to the blood vessels and that leads to decreased blood flow to the heart,” Dr. Figueredo said.

In fact, men are more likely to have a heart attack after a snowfall, probably from shoveling snow, according to Canadian researchers.

A 2017 study found a slight increase in heart attacks and deaths following a storm in Quebec. With each day of snow, these likelihoods increased. A single day of snowfall raised a man’s risk of heart attack by just less than one percent, the researchers reported in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

“Men are potentially more likely than women to shovel, particularly after heavy snowfalls,” researchers wrote. “Snow shoveling is a demanding cardiovascular exercise require more than 75 percent of the maximum heart rate, particularly with heavy loads.”

So how should you shovel when push comes to shove?

Pace yourself. Only shovel for 15 to 20 minutes at a time. Take breaks in between. If you feel lightheaded, slow down or stop. Be aware of heart attack warning signs: increased heart rate, shortness of breath, more sweating and tightness in the chest.

Shoveling is a tough upper body workout. It strains your heart more than walking or other low intensity cardio, according to Dr. Jon Rittenberger, an associate professor of emergency medicine at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

"You can do some damage to your back if you're not doing it properly," Sonsa added. "If you have cardiac problems, have a neighbor do it for you."

Having said that, protect your lower and upper back. Try to push the snow rather than lifting it. Also, bend at your knees, not your waist, and use your core to do the most work. Your abs, quadracepts, hips and hamstrings will help stabilize your lower body without putting too much strain on your back, according to Adam Bornstein of Born Fitness.

He also recommends gripping the shovel as tightly as possible to avoid spraining wrists. Wear gloves and dress warmly so you’re not rushing to finish. Shoveling safety takes time, and doing it properly could make the difference between enjoying a warm cup of tea after or heading to the doctor’s office.

The Orioles have placed closer Zach Britton on the DL as he deals with a left forearm strain. That and more in your MLB notes.

Other safety tips for surviving heavy snowfall:

DON’T walk without knowing your surroundings.

Be careful of snow and ice, and take steps slowly. Avoid shortcuts, too. Shortcuts can be dangerous because those paths are less likely to be cleared and treated. Also, be aware of what you’re walking under. Snow or ice could be falling from rooftops or trees.

DON’T sled if you don’t know the hill.

Sledding can be fun, but it can lead to injury if riders aren’t careful. Make sure the hill you choose isn’t too steep and that it has a flat area at the bottom to safely glide to a stop. Avoid sledding in areas the end near a street or parking lot or by ponds, trees or fences. Dress warm to avoid frostbite!

DON’T heat your home with stoves or charcoal grills.

When the power is out, it can be tempting to heat your home by stove or by moving the charcoal grill inside. These heaters release carbon monoxide, and it can poison you without you even knowing because it’s a colorless and odorless gas.

DON’T drink alcohol to stay warm.

Alcohol might make you feel warm, but it’s an old myth (sorry!). Alcohol actually decreases your core temperature and reverses some reflexes that control body temperature, like shivering, according to The New York Times and a study by the Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine.

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