Too old to shovel snow? If you’re older, middle-aged, beware of heart attacks, doctors say
Regardless of age, people with a medical condition should find somebody else to clear the driveway or possibly to opt for a snow blower, one doctor says.
Shoveling snow isn’t for everyone.
If you aren’t in good shape or are over 45, it might be best to leave shoveling snow to someone else.
Dozens of people die and thousands are injured nationally every year while shoveling snow — a task that can even trigger a fatal heart attack.
A peer-reviewed study published in 2010 estimated that nearly 200,000 people were treated in emergency rooms for health issues involving snow shovelings from 1990 to 2006, an average of roughly 11,500 people a year.
Soft-tissue injuries accounted for more than half of the injuries. Lower-back injuries made up a little more than a third.
The study recorded 1,647 deaths, all of them cardiac-related.
Generally speaking, medical experts say older middle-aged adults should try to avoid shoveling snow.
Dr. Barry Franklin has conducted studies on the topic after he knew two people who died during or after snow removal. He cautions anyone over 45 against shoveling snow because they could face a “perfect storm” of factors linked to heart attacks.
Dr. Luke Laffin, a cardiologist at the Cleveland Clinic, is a little looser on the age to stop shoveling. Laffin encourages people to stop once they turn 55.
There is no single right age. That depends on a person’s health and heart history, Franklin says, but he generally recommends older adults to find another way to clear their sidewalks and driveway.
“I think it’s really impossible to say a certain age,” says Franklin, who is director of preventive cardiology and cardiac rehabilitation for Beaumont Health in Royal Oak, Michigan. “Sometimes, I see a guy who’s 70 who really looks and functions like he’s 40, and other people vice-versa.”
The recommendation comes down to the high prevalence of heart issues for adults who are middle age or older. Nearly half of American adults have some form of cardiovascular disease, according to a American Heart Association report in 2019.
Cold temperatures can raise blood pressure and constrict coronary arteries, Franklin says.
Couple that with the intense exertion of shoveling — especially when it’s wet, heavy snow — and it can be a deadly combination for people in an age group widely known to have heart trouble.
“I mean, it’s peak exercise,” Laffin says.
In fact, the chore can be as intense as running. A 1995 study co-written by Franklin found that shoveling snow and running on a treadmill resulted in roughly the same heart rate among a group of young adult men, and snow shoveling spurred a higher systolic blood pressure — that’s the first number of the two that make up your blood pressure.
For older middle-aged adults who don’t get a lot of exercise or generally are inactive, Franklin and Laffin say it’s best to leave the shoveling for someone else.
Regardless of age, people with a medical condition should find somebody else to clear the driveway, Laffin says, or possibly to opt for a snow blower, though even that can be a workout.
“Particularly people that have multiple medical conditions such as coronary artery disease or hypertension, or maybe they’re overweight or obese and don’t get a lot of physical activity — it’s not worth it to risk your heart,” he says.
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