Men should take caution while shovelling themselves out of snow, as a new Canadian study has found that days following heavy snowfall carry a higher risk of heart attack for men. “Up to now, there was a theoretical risk that snow shovelling can increase heart attack at a population level,” said Nathalie Auger, assistant clinical professor at the University of Montreal in Canada. “With this study, we are now more certain that snowfall is linked with heart attack in individuals,” said Auger.
Auger and colleagues gathered reports of 128,073 hospital admissions and 68,155 deaths from heart attack in Quebec from November through April, every year between 1981 and 2014. They also obtained weather information corresponding to the time frames and regions included in the study. When they compared the medical and weather data, the researchers found that the most dangerous days occurred immediately following snowfalls.
About one third of hospital admissions and deaths due to heart attack occurred on these days, and the risk was even
stronger after snowfalls that lasted two to three days. About 60 per cent of the heart attack cases in the study
were in men. On days after snowfalls, men had increased relative risks of being admitted to the hospital or dying – 16
per cent and 34 per cent, respectively – compared to other days during the study period.
This pattern was true regardless of age, cardiovascular risk factors and other health conditions. Women, on the other
hand, did not appear to be at higher risk after snowfalls than on other days.
Auger said that the findings should be a reminder that people need to be concerned about potential cardiovascular
risks, in addition to snow-related falls and automobile accidents.
“Snow shovelling is very challenging for the heart, and you should be aware that shovelling can be a real strain,
especially if you overdo it,” she said. Men who are older or not in top cardiovascular shape should avoid shovelling if they can, Auger said, or may want to use a lightweight or ergonomically designed shovel.
“If you can’t find someone who is physically fit to shovel for you, try to be more careful and do not push
yourself too hard,” she added. Because the study only looked at trends over time, it is not able to establish a cause-and-effect relationship between snow-related activities like shovelling and heart attacks, researchers said.
It is not know whether the people in the study actually shovelled snow, and researchers had no information about
gender-specific shovelling habits, the size of areas shovelled or whether snow was removed manually or with a snow blower.
However, they believe that their hypothesis that men are more likely to shovel after a snowstorm, and that shovelling is responsible for their increased risk of heart attacks is plausible. The study was published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.