11 December 2017



Impact of a heavy snowfall on the heart

In the medical field and especially in cardiology, we often associate a snowstorm with a recrudescence of consultations in the emergency room for heart problems.  And the shovel is usually identified as the culprit for those problems!

Is it a myth or reality?

Impact of the environment

A snowfall is a good example to better understand the impact of the environment on cardiovascular diseases.

Not so long ago, the link between the environment and cardiovascular health was not clearly established. Today, it’s more obvious. For example, there is no doubt that excessively hot weather has an impact on the number of cardiac deaths.

Impact of a snowstorm

But what about a snowstorm?

A group of researchers at the Centre Hospitalier de l’Université de Montréal (CHUM) have presented the results of a study related to the impact of snowstorms on the occurrence of heart attacks and deaths.

They started by counting the daily number of heart attacks and deaths that occurred in Quebec hospitals over a period of almost 35 years!

Days and duration of the storms

They then matched the data of this census with recorded snowstorm days over that period. They built a table that showed storm duration in days and the amount of snow in centimeters.


In other words, they sought to know whether heart attacks or deaths occurred on the day of a snowstorm or on the following days.

More heart attacks and deaths in men

The result:  more heart attacks and deaths related to heart attacks occurred in the male population the day following a snowstorm compared to other days.

Furthermore, the researchers noted that when a storm extended over several days, the number heart attacks and deaths related to heart attacks increased.

Not more events among women

There was no increase in cardiac events within the female population in the days following a snowstorm.

Is shovelling in question?

The study does not mention the reason, but we speculate that shovelling is a plausible explanation.

It is possible that shovelling chores are more often done by men, or that women shovel in a more gentle way.

Tough mornings after a snowstorm

In general, it is the morning after a snowstorm that shovels come out. People are in a hurry to get rid of the snowdrifts formed by the wind. It is the kind of chore that we want to be done before we even start…

However, snow shoveling is not a small task for the heart.

Impact on the heart

So, what is the impact of shoveling on the heart?

First of all, the effort required to shovel will increase the heart rate and the blood pressure to meet the additional oxygen demand to the muscles in action. This increase will be even more important if the person shoveling does not exercise regularly.

In addition, blood vessels exposed to cold weather will contract and generate more resistance to blood flow, which doesn’t help the heart at all…

Heart, pump and engine

This pump is also a muscle that uses oxygen like all the other muscles of the body. The increase in heart rate, the increase in blood pressure and the constricted blood vessels exposed to the cold increase the heart’s oxygen needs, like the fuel consumption of a car with a big engine and a poor aerodynamic design that is going fast

A recipe for disaster

It is obvious that snow shoveling represents a demanding cardiovascular effort. This situation may provoke the rupture of a cholesterol plaque in the coronary arteries, leading to a heart attack and even death.

All men are at risk

The study showed that heart attacks and deaths associated with shovelling do not occur more in the presence of known risk factors such as smoking, high blood pressure or diabetes, to name a few.

Therefore, be careful, everyone is at risk!

Small additional risk

However, we have to put in perspective that this is about an increased risk, not about a foreseeable epidemic!

In other words, if we would normally count 3 heart attacks per day during normal days, we could count 4 the day after a heavy snowfall. If you take into account the number of people with a shovel in their hands, the additional risk is small, but… it is present.

Nevertheless, this additional risk can be modified…

Stay calm

Men must learn how to pace themselves when they have a shovel in their hands and a snowdrift in front of them!

It is necessary to plan time in your schedule for shoveling the day after a snowfall.  The pace must be slowed down.  How?  If your breathing comes to the point that you can’t maintain a conversation, it is clear that your shoveling pace is too fast.

It’s better to prevent than to cure

Prevention remains the best treatment!

Lifestyle must be modified. Quitting smoking is imperative. It is quite as important to exercise regularly. It is also necessary to adopt good dietary habits and have your blood pressure and blood sugar levels under control.

Prevention remains the best treatment!