Tips on avoiding a shovelling-induced heart attack

Shovelling snow like the heavy, wet stuff that was just dumped on Montreal can be hazardous to your health.

Montreal cardiologist George Honos gives tips on staying safe while shovelling

At least two people died from shovelling in Buffalo, NY after a massive snowstorm pummelled the city - file photo. (Mike Groll/Associated Press)

Shovelling snow like the heavy, wet stuff that was just dumped on Montreal can be hazardous to your health.

Dr. George Honos, a cardiologist with the Centre hospitalier de l'Université de Montréal (CHUM), told CBC Daybreak on Thursday that a few conditions can conspire to cause a heart attack.

He shared some tips on avoiding shovelling-related heart problems, and a few telltale signs of a heart attack in progress.

1. Warm up

You'd normally warm up before lighting weights at the gym, so why not when you're about to shovel snow?

Shovelling snow is certainly a form of exercise, Honos said  and the snow that fell yesterday is particularly wet and heavy.

People who are not accustomed to regular exercise should take extra care to warm up before heading out with shovel in hand by doing light cardio activity to get the heart pumping. Think squats, arm and neck circles, torso rotations and jogging up and down the stairs a couple of times, or taking a brisk walk. 

Taking these steps can help prevent a huge rush of blood to the heart.

Stretching afterwards also helps prevent muscle pain and injury.

2. Dress appropriately

Honos said most people don't wear enough clothing when heading out to shovel, thinking they'll overheat with too many items of winter clothing on.

Shovelling causes people to sweat, but it's important that people wear warm enough clothing to prevent the sweat from freezing.

3. Pay attention to chest pain

A heart attack may not strike while you're in the middle of shovelling.

Honos said it's entirely possible it'll happen once you've gone back in after shovelling, and so it's important to pay attention to what your body is telling you.

He said if there is any sensation of squeezing and heaviness in the chest — which could also radiate toward the back, shoulder and left arm — to call 911 immediately.

Honos said arriving by ambulance with heart problems means you'll get a cardiogram within the first five minutes of your arrival.

If it turns out to be a false alarm, you'll be sent home and maybe told to take a Tylenol.

However, if you are experiencing genuine cardiac problems, you'll be glad you went. 

Honos said a person's prognosis generally improves drastically when a heart attack is caught early.