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Snow Shoveling and Heart Attacks — Is There Really A Link?

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Snow shovel imprint in snow

We’ve all heard it. Urban legend warns shoveling snow causes heart attacks. In fact, two of the most important cardiology associations in the US include snow shoveling on their websites as a high-risk physical activity. The citation references, however, indicate the warning is based on only one or two incidents.

Recently, a team of researchers at Canada’s Queens School of Medicine, together with Adrian Baranchuk, a professor in Queen’s School of Medicine and a cardiologist at Kingston General Hospital set out to get to the bottom of the issue. “We thought that this evidence should not be enough to convince us that snow -shoveling is potentially dangerous, ” said Dr. Baranchuk.

After plowing through piles of data, including an Ontario hospital’s patient records from the two previous winter seasons, the researchers discovered that of the 500 patients who came to the hospital with heart problems during this period, 7 per cent (35 patients) started experiencing symptoms while shoveling snow.

“That is a huge number,” said Dr. Baranchuk. “7 per cent of anything in medicine is a significant proportion. Also, if we take into account that we may have missed some patients who did not mention that they were shoveling snow around the time that the episode occurred, that number could easily double.”

The team also identified three main factors that put individuals at a high risk when shoveling snow. The number one factor was gender (31 of the 35 patients were male), the second was a family history of premature coronary artery disease (20 of the 35 patients), and the third was smoking (16 out of 35 patients). The second two factors may carry much more weight than the first, however, since the team could not correct for high rate of snow shoveling among men in their sample.

These findings were recently published in the journal Clinical Research in Cardiology.