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!


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

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