Snow heavy on the heartPublished 10:50am Wednesday, January 6, 2010
By JESSICA SIEFF
Niles Daily Star
It might be likely to assume the biggest toll taken, when it comes to the hassles of winter weather, is the toll taken on one’s nerves.
As it happens, winter can be hard on the heart – and a danger to one’s health.
In an article published through HealthDay, a service of the U.S. National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health, doctors say cold weather coupled with the added strain of shoveling snow or other similar strenuous activities can tip the scales on some existing heart conditions or push an underlying problem to the forefront leading to an increase in heart attacks in during the winter season.
“I think the biggest problem is that people are sedentary for most of the year,” said April Huggett, a certified physician’s assistant at Cardiology Southwest P.C. in St. Joseph and Niles.
Heavy snowfalls have had residents out more than once a day to keep up with driveways and walkways that are filling up with the white stuff. For those who haven’t spent all of 2009 exercising, Huggett said the activity could put a strain on the heart muscle.
“You increase your cardiovascular health by exercising,” Huggett said, adding that it’s best “to be active all through the year.”
Cold temperatures have an affect on blood flow, causing blood vessels to constrict, Huggett said, impacting circulation.
“The cold also puts a higher demand on your heart,” she said.
Those heading out with shovel in hand may want to break up the process going out to clear their pathways in shifts.
Breaking up the work is especially important, Huggett said, “if you’re short of breath or having chest pains.”
She added Cardiology Southwest has seen an increase in cases of incidents relating to various heart conditions just in the last week.
“Within the last week, we’ve had five deaths,” she said.
Two of those deaths took place while individuals were out shoveling snow. And while some might assume that the cold and strenuous activity of dealing with winter’s weather would take a particular toll on the elderly, Huggett said many people aren’t aware of the health of their own hearts. The two patients who died being of the relatively young ages of 49 and the other in the late 50s.
“Some of these people don’t really know how sick their hearts are already,” she said.
To illustrate, Huggett equates 20 minutes out shoveling to “walking a brisk mile,” something not done every day by some.
People on medication for cholesterol or high blood pressure should also pay special attention they don’t strain themselves.
Though people may not be able to get their hearts up to par for the winter storm expected to hit this week, Huggett said they can make getting in shape and staying in shape a priority for the coming year, to be in the best condition possible next winter.