Buffalo and surrounding areas of New York have been pummeled by several feet of snow in just a few days, leading to a rash of deaths and injuries.
At least two people have died in the region during a storm that many people are calling "Snowmageddon." A massive snowstorm is raging from the northeast to New Mexico, bringing damages and injuries throughout much of the United States.
Around 100 Americans die each year of cardiac arrest after shoveling snow. There are several hazards present as people head out to remove snow from walkways, sidewalks and staircases.
Shoveling largely utilizes muscles in the upper body, which may not be as well-developed as those in the legs in many people. Blood can pool in feet and legs from long periods of standing, forcing hearts to beat harder, in order to circulate oxygen. People also often shovel snow during the morning, when levels of stress hormones are at their highest, creating additional cardiac stresses.
"If you have a heart condition, you shouldn't shovel under any circumstances. People older than 50 should also try to avoid it. Contact your local council on aging to see if they provide a list of teens in your neighborhood who you can hire to do the job for you. Or buy a snow blower," Harvard Medical School researchers recommended in an online health guide.
Shoveling snow can be considered a form of isometric exercise, where muscles are strained without significant movement. This can raise heartbeat will narrowing blood vessels, a potential problem, especially for those with arterial blockages.
Because cold temperatures cause arteries to contract, blood supply may decrease, adding another stressor to the cardiac system. This condition can lead to a heart attack.
People should warm up, stretching and performing light exercise before heading out to shovel, and cool down after with a light workout, in order to reduce stresses on bodies while clearing snow.
While moving snow, it is also important to keep breathing, as holding one's breath while under physical stress is another factor that can lead to cardiac arrest. Those who are not used to exercise, or who are out of shape, should try to be aware of their limits, and not push their endurance, according to Harvard researchers.
"Muscle, ligament, tendon, and other soft tissue injuries topped the list of snow shoveling mishaps. Among these, lower back injuries were common. Other common snow shoveling injuries included cuts and broken bones. The arms and hands were the most likely body regions to sustain a bone fracture," WebMD reports.
Even a snow blower may not be a guarantee against a heart attack, as one of the victims in Buffalo was using one of the devices when he fell dead.