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Medical Preventing a heart attack while shoveling snow

  1. Mar 6, 2012 #1
    If you have ever shoveled snow you can imagine how someone with a bad heart might die from shoveling snow too fast. Suppose we have two identical twins, aged 54, with equally bad hearts. Suppose the first twin goes out to shovel his driveway which has a foot of heavy damp snow. Suppose he starts out fast, works too hard and has a heart attack.

    Suppose the second twin has an identical situation, a driveway which has a foot of heavy damp snow. Suppose our second twin starts out very slow, and very slowly, say over a period of say thirty minutes (it's a long drive way) gradually increases his effort, slowly working harder and harder. Because this twin gradually increases his effort will he likely have any warning that his sick heart is working too hard? Is he more likely to avoid a heart attack because he started out slow?

    I wonder if a strategy of starting out slowly with any intense physical activity and slowly increasing your effort can reduce the risk of heart attack? Conversely is there a way a person with a sick heart can guarantee killing them selves with intense physical activity?

    Thanks for any help!
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 6, 2012 #2
    Re: Preventing a heart attack from shoveling snow.

    I'm no doctor, but I think it's common sense to start out any physical activity slowly and warm up. I don't think it's ever a good idea to work super hard unless you are training. You can shovel snow at a reasonable pace, keeping your heart rate down. You should never shock your system by over extending yourself. Good or bad heart, regardless, there are plenty other ways to hurt yourself.
  4. Mar 7, 2012 #3
    Get a snow blower ;-)
  5. Mar 7, 2012 #4
    I finally get one, 8^)

    no snow 8^/
  6. Mar 21, 2012 #5
    I think this depends a lot on what exactly constitutes a "bad heart" in your mind. There are a lot of specific conditions which could make a heart "bad". In general, a heart that isn't working at 100% output to begin with will have to work harder to keep up with rigorous physical activity. Work hard enough, and the cardiopulmonary system won't be able to provide adequate oxygenation to the body. Intensity and duration are both likely factors. One twin could work slower than the other, and not feel so bad, but could work long enough to drop his oxygen saturation and put further stress on the heart, possibly causing damage.

    The body cannot function without oxygen, and the heart will be damaged on a cellular level by a lack of oxygen. The problem with heart disease in this sense is that it creates a feedback loop: Less output means less oxygen which means more damage which means less output. Physical exertion speeds up the process. Once the heart itself isn't getting enough oxygen, one would probably feel pain in their chest prior to arrhythmia and possible cardiac arrest. It would be an obvious warning sign, but by then damage could already have occurred, leading to a heart attack sometime afterwards!

    In a hypothetical situation, a pulse oximeter could keep track of the oxygenation of the blood and pulse rate. Once the percentage of oxygen saturation starts to drop steadily, that's a good sign of overexertion. Even then, there is no guarantee that exertion of any sort won't instigate a cardiac event depending on the nature of the condition.

    To illustrate that, I might mention that I had lost a relative to sudden cardiac arrest. He was driving a car at the time, which is hardly strenuous. In some cases, all it can take is a blood clot or a fat embolism to kill a person. It really depends on what the situation is, and only a doctor could reasonably suggest what a specific person's safe limits are.

    I can only guarantee that someone won't die from a heart attack due to shoveling snow if they do not shovel snow.

    As for guaranteeing death, like I said, lack of oxygen. I would certainly never suggest climbing Mount Everest while alternating between smoking unfiltered cigarettes and breathing into a paper bag. Then again, maybe one would pass out if their heart doesn't stop first. There are no guarantees in medicine, except time; Entropy kills.
  7. Mar 21, 2012 #6
    Pay the kid next door to do it.
  8. Mar 22, 2012 #7
    Thank you Kurinn for your detailed post! I exercise, intensly at times, and I'm getting old (54) and hoped that if I pushed my physical limit slowly that I would get warnings from my body that I should slow down or die. No warning guaranteed you say! Darn %^(


    I'm guessing that exercise that is too intense may defeat the purpose of trying to get better in shape?

    The oximeter does not look too expensive,


    I think I will experiment with one, thank you for the suggestion. Would hard breathing be a sign that your oxygen level is too low?

    So even someone with a healthy heart could die from too much exertion like the guy who ran the first marathon and then died.

    I better slow down or die sooner rather then later.

    Thanks for your help!
  9. Mar 22, 2012 #8
    I'm glad I can be of assistance. Still, if you think you have any symptoms of heart trouble, your best bet is to consult a cardiologist. I'm no doctor, so I can't offer any specific help, just general information. I know a lot of people can't afford health care these days, but if you feel that you might have heart problems, try whatever you can to get the help you need. It goes without saying, but if you think you are having a heart attack, always call 911. Know the signs of a heart attack and don't hesitate to seek help if you think you might be in trouble. My relative was a member of the local volunteer fire department, and had training and experience working in emergency medicine. Even so, I'm guessing that if he felt anything leading up to his heart attack, he may very well have shrugged it off. Don't make that mistake.

    You don't need to run a marathon to keep in good shape. Even walking rigorously for at least 20 minutes a day can help you. Promoting good cardiovascular health demands regular exercise and a good diet, especially at your age. There are many sources of information available to help you decide what is best for you. The American Heart Association is a good source of information and general advice.

    This goes without saying, but if you ever feel short of breath, you should probably slow down and take a rest. If it persists even while idle, it may likely indicate a problem that needs immediate attention. Check out the AHA site and learn more.

    I wish you the best of health, and many years of good life.
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