If you think your heart's not in it, avoid shoveling wet, heavy snow
Jan. 27—Michael Taylor doesn't welcome the sight of snow falling — particularly, the wet, heavy stuff Maine has been getting — when he knows it means that shoveling comes next.
"I like the cold, I'm just not a real fan of snow," said Taylor, who grew up in Alabama, where snow is a once-every-few-years event.
Taylor, who was clearing his driveway on Woodford Street on Thursday, moved to Maine three years ago to work at Maine Medical Center and go to school. A certified nursing assistant, he is used to the exertion involved, likening it to a regular outdoor chore he used to do, pushing a lawnmower in the Alabama heat.
Taylor said he takes medication for high blood pressure but is otherwise healthy, so if he ever feels something more serious than muscle soreness, he knows what to do.
"I'm the type of person that if anything is bothering me, I know to go to see the doctor," he said.
That's because shoveling, especially wet heavy snow like that left Thursday by overnight snow and rain, involves a mix of activities that can strain the heart of someone with preexisting conditions that are often warning signs of a heart problem.
Winter is sometimes referred to as heart attack season, but heart problems that are often blamed on shoveling "are heart attacks that would have happened anyway," said Dr. Colin Phillips, an interventional cardiologist with MaineHealth.
Still, Phillips has advice for patients with heart troubles: "Please do not shovel. Ask a friend or hire someone."
Phillips said the exertion, along with smoking, high cholesterol, diabetes or high blood pressure, can overwork a heart to the point where a heart attack occurs, he said.
"It's a nasty combination of isometrics and lifting, in a harsh environment where it's cold and then you start to sweat, and it can be frustrating work, which can play into this," he said. That can lead to a heart attack, Phillips said, but he reiterated that "sometimes the heart attack would have happened anyway."
Phillips also said that anyone who fears they are suffering a heart attack should seek help immediately.
He said warning signs are chest pain, jaw pain and nausea that doesn't go away.
Phillips said the best prevention for a shoveling-induced heart attack — or any heart problems — is having regular check-ups with a doctor so you know if you have some of the conditions that are precursors to heart attacks.
"People may have to shovel and that's a reality, but be cautious and use it as an opportunity to reach out to a doctor," he said.
Matt Retzer, who also lives on Woodford Street, said his family recently bought a snowblower for his father-in-law to make clearing the driveway easier for the 80-year-old, who has a pacemaker.
"We still worry," Retzer said, but he — somewhat — enjoys getting out and shoveling after a storm.
"Personally, I like some of it," the 47-year-old said. "It's exhausting at the end, but it's a good workout."
But Laura Burnham, who shovels her own driveway and those of two neighbors on Woodford Street, said the health impact weighs on her mind.
"I'm 60 and I have three shoveling jobs to do, so I worry every time I go out there," she said. Burnham said her younger brother, who is 44, often helps her and she pays attention to how she feels and takes a break if it gets too strenuous.