Doctors say shoveling snow can increase risk of heart problems

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Snow is expected to hit the metro Tuesday night and into Wednesday morning. Get those shovels ready, but be careful. Shoveling can put a lot of stress on your heart.

Doctors say pay attention to your body. Look out for shortness of breath, chest pain and severe fatigue. Don't write them off as normal reactions to exercise.

If you have a heart condition, you're at a greater risk of having an episode while shoveling. Even if you're healthy, there are things they say you need to look out for.

"Last time I was out cleaning around my car, I ended up cleaning around four ladies cars," Mike Lemken said. "I'm going go have to restrain myself."

Lemken had a mild heart attack a few days ago and can no longer shovel. He felt chest pains while lifting bags of sand at a his job at a hardware store, and had a rapid heart beat. So he left early and drove himself to Saint Luke's, where he went into cardiac arrest.

Lemken will go home Tuesday, but doctors gave him special instructions.

"That's the first thing they said, when you go home walk around. Do something but don't go shoveling snow," Lemken said.

That's because according to Dr. Anthony Hart, shoveling can increase the risk for another cardiac event for people with heart conditions.

"There's been studies that show that during shoveling of snow, your heart rate and blood pressure increase at levels that are equivalent to going extremely hard on a treadmill," Hart said.

Hart, a cardiologist at St. Luke's  says even if you don't have a heart condition, shoveling can still put a lot of strain on your heart and increase your blood pressure.

"When you shovel show it's engaging more of your arms and your legs," Hart said. "Which is a task that most people aren't used to so it used muscles that haven't been exercised before."

If you are going to be outside shoveling, Hart said you should take breaks and bundle up.

"That cold air in cold temperature restricts their blood vessels which further puts strain the heart in terms of blood pressure and heart rate," Hart said.

To reduce the strain on your heart, you can use a smaller shovel, so you're not lifting as much weight at one time. Snow blowers are heavy, so Hart says you could also be at risk for a cardiac event when you use one.

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