Heart Health

Survival Tips for Heart-Attack Season


 Snow shoveling is great exercise, but if you’re over a certain age or have health problems, it could prove deadly unless you protect yourself.

 “When the temperature outside drops, our blood vessels narrow to prevent our bodies from losing heat. This is a natural response that can also put people with heart conditions and those involved in strenuous exercise at greater risk of having a heart attack,” says Dr. Holly Andersen, director of education and outreach at the Ronald O. Perelman Heart Institute of NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center.

As we’ve learned from many news stories about people who die while shoveling snow, it’s a particularly dangerous activity. In fact, shoveling is one of the most strenuous winter exercise activities, according to the experts at New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center.

Here are Andersen’s tips for safe shoveling and maintaining a healthy heart this winter:

•    Consult a doctor. If you are over the age of 50, overweight, out of shape or have suffered a heart attack, you should talk to a doctor before shoveling snow or starting any exercise routine. The American Heart Association also points out that other, possibly dangerous exercises include walking through heavy drifts or wet snow.

•    Warm up. Warm up with stretching and light activity before shoveling, exercising or beginning more strenuous physical activities. The American Heart Association also suggests that you avoid eating a heavy meal and drinking alcohol either before or after shoveling. A lot of food, the association says, can put an “extra load” on your heart, while alcohol can make you feel warmer than you really are.

•    Bundle up. When going out to shovel, always wear a scarf over your mouth and nose to warm the air before you breathe in, and dress in layers, Andersen says Layering clothes underneath a windproof and waterproof outer shell helps maintain body heat and avoid hypothermia, a dangerous drop in body temperature.

•    Push the shovel. It is less strenuous to push the snow rather than lifting it, and this reduces the risk of overexerting yourself. You might also want to consider using a smaller shovel or a snow blower, according to the American Heart Association.  

•    Take breaks. Andersen says that you should take frequent breaks while shoveling to give your muscles, especially your heart muscle, a chance to relax. You may also consider sharing the work with a friend to make the workload lighter and ensure that you are not alone in the event of an emergency.

The American Heart Association also urges people who feel that they are having a heart attack to call 911 right away. “Even if you’re not sure it’s a heart attack, have it checked out (tell a doctor about your symptoms),” the . association says in its guidelines. “Minutes matter! Fast action can save lives — maybe your own. Don’t wait more than five minutes to call 911.”

Additionally, the association says, “bystander CPR,” given immediately after cardiac arrest, can double or even triple a victim’s chances of survival.  “Hands-only CPR makes it easier than ever to save a life. If an adult suddenly collapses, call 9-1-1 and begin pushing hard and fast in the middle of the victim’s chest until help arrives.”

For more information on CPR training, click here. For additional information about heart disease, visit the American Heart Association website, www.heart.org.

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