ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - After an overnight snowstorm blanketed the Anchorage area Friday night, many residents were outside Saturday with shovels and snowblowers trying to clear their driveways, sidewalks and roads. With the fresh layer of snow came a cautionary reminder from the Anchorage Fire Department about the dangers of strenuous activity during the winter months.
According to AFD, thousands of people sustain physical injuries or suffer heart attacks while shoveling snow in the United States every year. In Anchorage, the fire department has already responded to a number of medical emergencies related to snow shoveling so far this winter, according to Station 3 paramedic Dan Otis.
“Every year we have people that have heart attacks while out shoveling their snow. So it’s important that they know the signs and that they call early if they’re having any of those symptoms,” Otis said.
The fire department says that cold weather causes blood vessels to constrict, bringing less oxygen to the heart. This coupled with an increased heart rate from shoveling snow can result in a heart attack. The risk is heightened for people with a history of heart disease, high cholesterol, sedentary living and smoking.
“It’s going to be cold outside, you’re going to be under a lot of load and stress and that can cause increased blood pressure and increased heart rate,” Otis said. “For people that haven’t been very physically active over the winter months, that can be a big shock to the system.”
In order to avoid the risks, experts recommend dressing warmly, staying hydrated and taking frequent breaks while shoveling. It’s also important to go slow and avoid over-exerting yourself.
Symptoms of a heart attack include a sudden shortness of breath, chest pain, and dizziness. If you think you are experiencing a heart attack, the fire department says you should stop shoveling immediately, call 911 and try to remain calm.