The Heart Attack Risks of Shoveling Snow

woman shoveling snowI love the snow (but I don’t live in New England). It’s a great time for sledding, blog writing, reading and relaxing by the fire. Notice I didn’t say shoveling? That’s right, I don’t do it. Although I am probably in the best shape of my life, I leave the shoveling to my wife.

While you are mocking me with a “she must wear the pants” comment, let me explain why she carries the shovel. My wife just won’t let me shovel snow – for good reason. Snow shoveling has a reputation for triggering heart attacks and I have an extremely suspect cardiac profile.

Avoid Shoveling If You Are At Risk

According to an article Dr. Marc Gillinov of the Cleveland Clinic, people at risk of having a heart attack while shoveling snow, include people who have:

  • Heart attack history
  • Heart disease history
  • Heart bypass surgery
  • Peripheral arterial disease
  • 2 or more: Smoking, high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol

I have 4 out of 5 of those, so take back your snickering insults. It seems that people with these conditions may have suspect plaques in the arteries of the heart. The stress of shoveling snow can rupture these plaques, leading to blockage in your arteries. As a reminder, blocked artery = heart attack.

There are other factors at play here as well – mostly male stupidity. Nothing like eating a bunch of chicken wings, washing them down with a 6-pack and then shoveling in shorts and a t-shirt.

Play It Safe When Shoveling

The best way to protect yourself from harm while shoveling is to treat it as exercise:

  • Don’t eat a huge meal before heading out to shovel
  • Stretch
  • Warm up with a brief walk
  • Hydrate before and during shoveling
  • Layer clothing and stay warm.

Of course, if you fall into one of the categories on the high-risk list, don’t shovel. That’s what your wife or kids are for!

References:

Gillinov, Marc A., MD. “Shoveling Snow Can Kill You.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 08 Jan. 2014. Web. 23 Nov. 2014.

Photo credit: AstridWestvang / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

HeartGeek Year In Review

2014I hope everyone had a happy and healthy holiday season.  I am in vacation mode – which means I am being lazy and not writing new posts.  Seems like a good time to look back on this past year’s most popular posts:

  1. My Favorite Heart Health Gadget – My first gadget review. The Alivecor is a portable device that provides a real-time electrocardiogram (ECG) on your cell phone. Another favorite is the Basis Peak fitness watch.
  2. Heart Attack and Cardiac Recovery – Get Off Your Ass – It’s good to see an interest in exercise. This post provides strategies to get moving and stay motivated.
  3. Exercise After 40? It’s Not Too Late! – More of a reference than a post. Provides a link to a study that found starting exercise at 40 has the same heart benefits as starting exercise earlier in life.
  4. Heart Attack and Cardiac Recovery – Stop Eating Crap – A post describing my experiments with different diets and a top 10 of what really worked.
  5. Heart Attack and Cardiac Recovery – Simplify Your Life – Tips for getting rid of the unhealthy habits and distractions and focusing on what is important – your health!

Those were the most read posts this past year and I truly appreciate you taking the time to read them. I also had a few favorites (in no particular order):

  1. What is a Cardiac Arrest? –Learn the difference between a cardiac arrest and a heart attack in this post.
  2. Sugar Increase Your Risk of Dying From Heart Disease – Fatty foods are considered enemy number one for cardiac patients. This post explains why sugar may be just as dangerous.
  3. What is Your Child’s Risk of a Heart Attack? – Healthy living is a family commitment. Strategies to get our kids moving and head off early heart disease.
  4. How To Prevent Your Next Heart Attack – Strategies for planning the rest of your life.
  5. The Best Supplements For Heart Health – Find out what supplements can increase your overall energy, allow you to exercise more, have less fatigue, less muscle pain and cramping, and even get a better nights sleep.

I imagine everyone is starting to make their resolutions.   Exercise, diet, etc. are all good and I wish you the best.   Check back in here throughout the year if you need a little motivation.  In case you are struggling with resolutions, there is a good post on Zenhabits describing the benefits of establishing new habits over making resolutions.

I am trying to figure out what to do with this blog in 2015.  Let me know what you liked and didn’t like over the past year.  What information do you find most beneficial?

Thanks, and Happy New Year!

Paul

What Is a Cardiac Arrest?

difibrillattorI couldn’t let National Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA) month go by without a mention. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), over 90% of those suffering a cardiac arrest outside of a hospital died. The awareness campaign wants to improve those odds.

Did the campaign work? Do you now know the difference between a heart attack and a cardiac arrest?  Don’t worry, I have experienced both and I didn’t know the difference for quite a while afterwards.

Plumbing vs. Electrical

A heart attack is plumbing – your arteries are blocked.  A cardiac arrest is electrical – your heart stops beating (think death).  Here are the main differences:

  1. A heart attack occurs when a blocked artery prevents blood from reaching a section of the heart.
  2. Symptoms may be immediate and intense, or they may start slowly and persist for hours, days or weeks before the attack occurs.
  3. The heart usually does not stop beating during a heart attack.
  4. Cardiac arrest occurs suddenly and often without warning.   Cardiac arrest is triggered by an electrical malfunction in the heart that causes an irregular heart attack vs cardiac arrestheartbeat.

For those that are more visual, check out the Infographic on the right provided by the American Heart Association.

How To Save a Life

What should you do if you think someone might be in cardiac arrest? The AHA recommends the following:

  1. Yell for help. Tell someone to call 911 and someone else to find an automated external defibrillator (AED).
  2. Check breathing – if the person is not breathing, start CPR.
  3. Begin chest compressions. Use the AED if available.
  4. Keep up the chest compressions until help arrives.

Immediate assistance is the difference between life and death for someone in cardiac arrest. You can read more about the campaign and sudden cardiac arrest here.

Photo credit: Cliff Johnson / Foter / CC BY-SA

HeartGeek Completes Triathlon

HeartGeek Triathlon

HeartGeek Completes Triathlon

Just a quick post to let everyone know that I survived the Dewey Beach Triathlon.  My family and I travelled down to the beach last Friday evening and met three friends who also made the foolish decision to swim, bike, and run for an ungodly amount of time.

After dinner at the Starboard, we all went back to my friends house and turned in somewhat early.  Nobody slept too well that evening and we all began stirring around sunrise the next morning.  Luckily, the starting line for the event is about five minutes from the house.

The morning was gray and the sea was angry.  Almost 1,000 competitors marched a half mile down the beach just so we could swim back the same distance.  Staring at the swells of the ocean during that walk was somewhat intimidating.

It wasn’t pretty, but I finished the swim.  My biggest obstacle out of the way, it was on to the bike.  This leg was my best and fairly uneventful.  After a quick transition, I was out running.

About a mile into the run, my quads started cramping.  Another runner told me to “stride it out”.  I basically sprinted two blocks and walked one block for the next 2.5 miles.  Funny thing is, it didn’t impact my time too significantly.

I was very happy to finish and was even pleased with my overall time.  Here is the kicker, when looking online at my results, I found out I was penalized.  Officially, the penalty reads “abandonment of equipment”.  I think it really means I dropped an energy bar!

Tri Friends

Time for a new challenge.  What should I do next?

Yes, Foot Pain Could Be a Blocked Artery

Blocked Iliac Artery

Like any good cardiac patient, I started exercising regularly after my heart attack.  I began with short walks and eventually built up to running 2-3 miles at a time.  Then my right leg died!

The death of my leg did not happen over night.  I noticed that my leg felt like it was “dragging” when I ran.  The same dragging or sense of weakness then developed when I was walking, particularly on stairs or inclines.   Eventually, I experienced extreme pain in the arch of my foot while running.
Due to the weakness in the leg, I decided I must have a muscular problem.

Dr. Moron

With my own moronic diagnosis in hand, I began an almost two year odyssey of visits to specialists:
  • Chiropractor – advice:  not sure what it is, but keep coming back ($$)
  • Physical Therapist – advice:  not sure what it is, but keep coming back ($$)
  • Acupuncturist – advice:  not sure what it is, but keep coming back ($$)
You get the idea.  I then mentioned the problem to my primary physician during a routine checkup.  He suggested a visit to the neurologist to see if a nerve was being pinched.
I scheduled a visit with the same neurologist that treated me post-cardiac arrest.  She was familiar with my background and suggested a vascular consult before we started messing with nerves and spinal cords.

Pictures Don’t Lie

A quick CT Scan (that’s an actual of my scan above) by the Interventional Radiologist found a 65% blockage in my iliac artery.  You can see the blockage on the left side of the image, right after the split from the aorta.  The iliac artery carries blood from the aorta down to the lower extremities.  A short-time later I had a stent placed in the artery and voila, blood started flowing again.
I learned a few important lesson from this experience:
  1. I am a moron and should stop self diagnosing
  2. I should also consult my primary care physician if something is wrong
  3. I have cardiovascular disease and that has to be factored into any physical issue I am experiencing
That final point is important.  Below is a list of signs & symptoms I found on livestrong.com related to poor blood circulation:
  1. Leg Pain While Walking
  2. Numbness and Weakness
  3. Coldness and Swelling
  4. Non-healing Sores
  5. Changes in Skin Color
  6. Weak Pulse in Legs
  7. Chest Pain (duh!)
  8. Erectile Dysfunction (doh!)
I am learning my lesson and bringing more issues to my doctor’s attention.  I am still getting cramping in my legs and feet.  My primary physician recommended a new statin and vitamin D supplement.  My cardiologist recommended a test for peripheral artery disease (PAD).  Luckily, there were no significant findings.  The point is, if you have a condition such as cardiovascular disease, don’t trivialize it’s impacts downstream.  Be a dork, or maybe even a geek and do some analysis of your own.  And, it should go without saying, talk to your doctor.

Is It Safe To Do a Triathlon After a Heart Attack?

tri picture

There is a reason you hear about people dropping dead during these events.  Heart attack or not, endurance events put a significant strain on the body, particularly the heart.  If you are going to train for and compete in one of these events, it’s important to understand your underlying cardiac condition and always consult your doctor.  It’s also important to be naked, play guitar and train with “friends”.

Silly Mamil

I am not the only middle-aged guy contemplating one of these events.  There are so many of us out there that we even have a nickname:  Mamils (middle aged men in lycra).  According to an article in Bloomberg, the average age of competitors in these event is on the rise.  The 40-60 year age bracket now holds 32 percent of the membership in USA Triathlon.

Sinking Mamils

study published by the Mayo Clinic found that the death rate for triathlons is about twice that of marathons because of the overall intensity, particularly during the swim event.  In a triathlon, the swim event is first.  Swimmers pumped full of adrenaline swim on top of each other as they position for the lead.  The panic, physical exertion, and lack of oxygen can be lethal.

The Bloomberg article mentioned above is an excellent resource and goes into much more detail on the risks.  I recommend reading this if you are contemplating one of these events.

Stupid Mamil

So why am I doing this?  Because I am a stupid!  Also, because I have two good friends to compete with, I need something new to keep me engaged, and I like the challenge.  I am already biking and running, what’s the harm of a little swim?  I outline my approach to exercise in a previous post if you are interested in reading more.

Trimamil

Trinewbie is great site full of training advice and programs geared towards first time competitors.  I actually completed one of these events back in my smoking days, prior to the heart attack.  That one was done with little training.  This time around, I will l somewhat follow the 10-week program on the Trinewbie site.

If you haven’t had a heart attack and are not exercising, hopefully my participation in this event has appropriately shamed you.  As always, check with your doctor before competing in one of these events.


References:

Khan, Natasha, and Shannon Pettypiece. “Men Over 40 Should Think Twice Before Running Triathlons.” Bloomberg. N.p., 21 June 2013. Web. 19 July 2014.

James H. O’Keefe et al. Potential Adverse Cardiovascular Effects From Excessive Endurance Exercise. Mayo Clinic Proceedings, Volume 87, Issue 6 (June 2012) DOI: 10.1016/j.mayocp.2012.04.005

Photo credit: guneyc / Foter /Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)