Over 45? This Chore Increases Your Risk of Heart Attack, Experts Warn

New research has found that the task can put a dangerous strain on some middle-aged adults.

Whether it's cleaning the gutters, mowing the lawn, or vacuuming the living room, even the most organized homeowner can feel like they're constantly struggling to keep up with their list of necessary chores. But in some cases, getting things done around the house can also pose potential health risks—especially as you age. And if you're 45 or older, experts warn that there's one chore in particular that could increase your risk of a heart attack. Read on to see which task may be riskier than you realize.

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Shoveling snow can increase your risk of a heart attack if you're over 45 years old.

man shoveling snow, airplane facts

While it may give you a break from mowing the lawn and watering your plants, winter presents a whole new set of maintenance tasks. But shoveling snow can be particularly dangerous for people who are 45 and older, as it puts them at a considerably higher risk of a heart attack.

Experts warn that while everyone's health is different, research has shown the chore can be hazardous. "I think it's really impossible to say a certain age. I see people every day; sometimes I see a guy who's 70 who really looks and functions like he's 40, and other people vice versa," Barry Franklin, MD, director of preventive cardiology and cardiac rehabilitation at Beaumont Health in Royal Oak, Michigan, tells USA Today. However, he adds that anyone 45 or older should be mindful of the risk. "Shoveling snow is a very strenuous activity, made even more so by the impact that cold temperatures have on your body, increasing the blood pressure while simultaneously constricting the coronary arteries. It really is a 'perfect storm' for acute cardiac events," he told the American Heart Association (AHA).

Other experts, such as Luke Laffin, MD, a cardiologist at Cleveland Clinic, suggest that those 55 and older find an alternative way to get rid of snow besides heading out with a shovel—especially if they have a heart condition or aren't particularly active. "It's like doing a stress test. I mean, it's peak exercise," he told USA Today.

Studies have shown that shoveling can be a particularly risky chore.

emergency room sign

A 2010 study published in The American Journal of Emergency Medicine analyzed data from 195,100 snow shoveling-related injuries that resulted in trips to the emergency room and were reported between 1990 and 2006. Results showed that 67.5 percent of the reported injuries occurred among males, and 21.8 percent were reported among people 55 or older.

The study found that soft tissue injuries were the most common, making up 54.7 percent of reported incidents, followed by injuries to the lower back at 34.3 percent. And while cardiac-related incidents only made up 6.7 percent of the ER visits reported, they were also responsible for all 1,647 deaths observed in the study.

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People who are at risk of heart attack should find another way to get rid of snow.

person shoveling snow on brick steps with red shovel

Ultimately, experts say that while older-middle-aged and senior adults are at risk, it's undoubtedly safest for anyone with a history of heart problems to avoid the chore altogether. "The impact of snow removal is especially concerning for people who already have cardiovascular risks like a sedentary lifestyle or obesity, being a current or former smoker, having diabetes, high cholesterol, or high blood pressure, as well as people who have had a heart attack or stroke," Franklin told the AHA. "People with these characteristics and those who have had bypass surgery or coronary angioplasty simply should not be shoveling snow."

Experts suggest using an electric snowblower or pushing the snow with your shovel rather than lifting it to reduce stress on the heart for anyone healthy enough to take care of the white stuff themselves. And there's always the hope that a younger neighbor or relative could be willing to do the chore for a little extra cash. "If you're not in great shape, it's not a bad idea to put that task on someone else," Laffin USA Today.

Studies have found that some everyday chores can even reduce your risk of a heart attack.

Couple gardening

Fortunately, not all household chores are as risky as shoveling. In fact, research has shown that some can have significant health benefits. A published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine on Mar. 19, 2019 set out to test the effects of leisure-time activity on heart health in older adults. Researchers gathered 88,140 participants between the ages of 40 and 85 from across the US and monitored their health for over 11 years while also surveying their physical activity levels.

Results found that participants who got in 10 to 59 minutes of moderate physical activity per week in activities such as gardening, walking, or dancing had an 18 percent lower risk of death from any cause and a 12 percent reduction in risk of dying from a heart attack or stroke. Those who managed to get in two to two and a half hours of moderate physical activity per week saw better results with a reduced risk of death from any cause of 31 percent.

According to experts, while gardening may not get your heartbeat skyrocketing the same way a HIIT class might, the subtle activity can still have a significant effect on your health. "The actual motions involved with digging and raking all involve a lot of coordinated upper and lower body movement that actually increases metabolic rate and can get your heart rate a little bit elevated," Michelle Adams, an instructor of kinesiology and nutrition at the University of Illinois at Chicago who was not involved with the study, told NBC's Today. "Not at an intense level, but at a nice low to moderate intensity level."

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Zachary Mack
Zach is a freelance writer specializing in beer, wine, food, spirits, and travel. He is based in Manhattan. Read more
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