Give Your Heart a Break When Shoveling

Pay Attention to Chest Pains, Shortness of Breath

Most people may not consider shoveling strenuous exercise, but moving all that snow definitely provides a workout for your heart. That can lead to patients arriving at a hospital’s emergency department with chest pains.

While not everyone experiencing chest pains has a heart attack, Cherian Varghese, MD, a cardiologist with ThedaCare Cardiovascular Care in Appleton and Neenah, said it is not uncommon. In addition to Appleton, he sees patients in New London, Shawano, Waupaca and Wausau.

“People exert themselves in a way they are normally not used to when shoveling and that can have a negative effect on their cardiac health,” Dr. Varghese said. “Some people come in with injuries while others may have chest pains.”

Dr. Varghese said when someone has pain in the middle or left side of the chest, he or she should see a healthcare provider to rule out a cardiac event. He added that not everyone experiences chest pain the same way. Some patients may have the traditional heart attack symptoms of tightness in the chest and pain in the shoulder and arm while others may just feel a heaviness in their chest or think it is acid reflux.

“If you have shortness of breath, but not the chest discomfort, when you are shoveling or doing another exercise, that should also be checked out,” Dr. Varghese said.

This year, ThedaCare Regional Medical Center-Appleton created magnets listing the warning signs of a heart attack and encourages people to dial 911 if they have symptoms. The magnets were given to several hardware stores to place on their shovels and snow blowers for sale as part of an educational outreach program.

The best way to avoid having cardiac issues during shoveling is to get daily exercise, Dr. Varghese said. He recommended everyone get at least 30 minutes of exercise daily, such as walking or biking, at least five days a week. “By working your heart regularly, it is better equipped to handle the shoveling,” he said.

For people who do not normally exercise, warm up before heading outside, Dr. Varghese said. Some examples include walking in place or stretching. “You need to warm up your muscles before exercising since that helps to avoid injuries,” he said. “You don’t want to strain yourself.”

Taking breaks is essential when shoveling since it provides your heart and cardiovascular system a chance to rest, Dr. Varghese said.

“When exercising, it is also important to stay hydrated. Make sure you drink enough water,” he said. “When it is cold out, people may not realize they are getting dehydrated. When you are dehydrated, it can lead to trouble.”

The bottom line is treat snow removal as you would any other exercise: prepare by warming up your muscles, stay hydrated and take breaks when necessary, Dr. Varghese said.

For more than 100 years, ThedaCare™ has been committed to finding a better way to deliver serious and complex healthcare to patients throughout Northeast Wisconsin. The organization serves over 200,000 patients annually and employs more than 6,800 healthcare professionals throughout the region. ThedaCare has seven hospitals located in Appleton, Neenah, Berlin, Waupaca, Shawano, New London and Wild Rose as well as 32 clinics in nine counties. ThedaCare is the first in Wisconsin to be a Mayo Clinic Care Network Member, giving our specialists the ability to consult with Mayo Clinic experts on a patient’s care. ThedaCare is a non-profit healthcare organization with a level II trauma center, comprehensive cancer treatment, stroke and cardiac programs as well as a foundation dedicated to community service.