It’s not a myth, it’s science. So much so that a cardiologist expert on snow removal (not making this up) advises anyone over 55 to not remove their own snow.

From the American Heart Association via The Weather Channel:

True, according to the American Heart Association.

Cold weather causes your blood vessels to constrict, raising blood pressure and exacerbating any preexisting heart problems. The physical inactivity that comes with the winter season also plays a role — after being sedentary for days or even weeks, intense movement such as shoveling snow can trigger a heart attack.

Although heart attack rates spike in the winter, it is certainly not the only time of year when heart problems kill. Heart disease is, in fact, the number one cause of death in the world, taking the lives of an estimated 17.3 million people annually, according to the World Health Organization.

It’s the number one killer in the states as well, causing almost 600,000 deaths a year, according to 2011’s preliminary statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

And if you have no choice but to clear your own snow by shoveling, here are some tips courtesy of Metro Health:

Before You Shovel Snow

  • Talk to your doctor before you take on this task of snow shoveling
  • Avoid shoveling immediately after you awaken as most heart attacks occur early in the morning when blood is more prone to clotting. Wait for at least 30 minutes and warm up
  • Do not eat heavy meal before shoveling: blood gets diverted form the heart to the stomach
  • Warm up your muscles before starting by walking for a few minutes or marching in place
  • Do not drink coffee or smoke for at least one hour before or one hour after shoveling or during breaks. These are stimulants and elevate your blood pressure and heart rate

While Shoveling Snow

  • Use a small shovel: shovel many small loads instead of heavy ones
  • Begin slowly and take frequent, 15 minute breaks
  • Drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration
  • Dress in layers, to avoid hypothermia (low body temperature) or overheating
  • Cover your head and neck (50% body heat lost thru head and neck)
  • Cover your mouth (breathing cold air can cause angina or trigger breathing problems
  • Watch for warning signs of a heart attack, lightheadedness, dizziness, being short of breath or if you have tightness or burning in chest, neck, arms or back. If you think you are having a heart attack call 911.
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