Shoveling snow is not for the faint of heart.
“Cold weather constricts the blood vessels and then with the work of shoveling snow, it puts an increased demand on the heart,” said Kierra Knox, Chest Pain Clinic coordinator at Billings Clinic. “And that’s when people can get signs and symptoms of a heart attack.”
With the next possible shot at moisture in southeast and southcentral Montana a week or more away, it’s probably not too early to think about how to be smart when it comes to scooping up copious quantities of wet, heavy snow.
Knox offers suggestions developed by the American Heart Association:
- Use a smaller shovel.
- Shovel smaller portions at a time.
- Take frequent breaks.
- Warm up in advance with a little stretching.
- Stay well-hydrated.
The exertion that comes with snow shoveling puts certain people at risk for a heart attack. They include individuals with a history of heart problems, people with high cholesterol or high blood pressure, smokers and those middle-aged or older who live a sedentary lifestyle.
“I read an article that men are at a higher risk because they’re so goal-oriented with getting the job done and not stopping when there’s some pain or unusual symptoms,” Knox said.
A study released by National Children’s Hospital in Ohio found that lower-back injuries are by far the most common injury associated with snow shoveling. But cardiac-related injuries, which affected only 7 percent of people in the study, accounted for half the hospitalizations and 100 percent of the fatalities.
To remind people what to be on the lookout for, members of the Billings Clinic cardiac team visited a number of hardware stores in Billings and surrounding communities to place stickers on snow shovels. The red hearts contain signs and symptoms of a heart attack.
- Chest pain, tightness or pressure.
- Chest pain with sweating and lightheadedness.
- Neck, jaw or shoulder pain.
- Back pain.
- Upper abdominal pain or discomfort.
- Unusual shortness of breath.
- Unusual fatigue.
“We have on the stickers to call 911,” Knox said. “Don’t wait for the symptoms to get worse or wait and see what happens.”
Stickers have been placed on snow shovels at every Ace Hardware location in Billings, as well as at the one in Columbus, at both Billings Hardware locations, at True Value in Red Lodge and at Beartooth Lumber in Absarokee.
Don Korf, store manager at King’s Ace Hardware in Billings, likes the idea of the stickers.
“Our demographic here around the neighborhood is middle-aged and older,” he said. “We lose a couple of people each year in our neighborhood, whether it be just old age or a heart attack.”
Korf knows of people who have died from snow-shoveling-related heart attacks. So not only is he letting the hospital to put the stickers on the shovels in stock, he has asked cashiers to point out stickers to customers when they buy the shovels.
Asked when he usually sees buyers coming in for the snow shovels.
“Usually the day after it snows,” he said, laughing.
Asked if he intends to continue the sticker program, Korf said he'd like to.
"If they bring us stickers, we'll do it every year," he said.