When we think of the danger caused by a blizzard in the Midwest, we usually associate it with driving on snowy and icy roads. The Minnesota Department of Public Safety actually reports that from 2015-2020 over 79,000 winter driving crashes occurred. Nearly 20,000 people were injured in those crashes, and 181 people tragically lost their lives. There's also a danger that has killed thousands of people across the country that we often don't think about.

What is 'Heart Attack Snow?'

Heavy, wet snow like the kind we are getting this week is what doctors worry about. Our local forecast calls for a wintry mix turning into snow. That mean's it is going to be wet and heavy. For the Northland, some places could see well over a foot of this snow.

Why does it raise the risk of a heart attack?

There are a few reasons why shoveling this heavy, wet snow could cause a medical emergency. The obvious reason is that it is a strenuous activity, especially for people who already have a cardiac condition. A single cubic foot of wet snow can weigh around 62 pounds. 

Close-up of shovel as man clears snow from path

It's the same as running on a treadmill for heart rate.

Have you been out of breath while shoveling? An article I found on USA Today talks about a study where they had young men run on a treadmill and tested their heart rate. They also then had the same group shovel snow. They found that the heart rate was very close to the same in both physical activities, however, the snow shoveling caused a higher systolic blood pressure reading.

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Cold weather can raise your blood pressure.

Cold temperatures can raise blood pressure and also constrict coronary arteries. If you add strenuous activity to that, it can cause cardiac issues in some people. People who are generally less physically active have a higher risk of having a cardiac episode during or after shoveling snow. A study done by The American Journal of Emergency Medicine shows that in a 17-year time period, 1,647 people died from a heart attack from shoveling snow.

man blowing snow

How to protect yourself.

If you are worried, consider hiring a snow removal company to help you out. Reach out to a family member or a friend. Having a snow blower definitely will help as well. But remember, you can still work up your heart rate with a snowblower.

Meteorologist Justin Liles last night had a good tip as well. As the snow keeps falling, periodically go out and shovel it before it accumulates too much. It's easier to shovel it a little at a time, rather than all at once.

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