How shoveling snow can trigger heart attacks

LEBANON, N.H. (WCAX) Shoveling snow is a regular part of the job for Duane Cook who manages several buildings in Lebanon. But not too long ago, he was unexpectedly off his feet.

"I was 75 percent plugged on one side, and they did a triple-bypass and I'm as good as new, I guess," said Cook of Fairlee.

Cook found out he needed surgery during a stress test at an annual physical rather than on the job. But nonetheless, it was unexpected news for this 64-year-old.

"It was kind of a surprise more than anything else," he said. "I thought I was in pretty good health."

What shouldn't be surprising, according to doctors, is how taxing shoveling snow can be on the body.

"It is more of a workout in many cases than it would be for people to go into the gym and go full tilt on a treadmill," said Dr. Greg Dadekian, a cardiologist at the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center.

And during a big storm, this heart doctor braces for more patients. He says older people who do not work out regularly are at the greatest risk.

"They are doing a kind of exertion where they have to bear down and stop breathing, which is what we call a Valsalva maneuver, which is extra taxing on the heart," Dadekian explained. "You've got the cold weather which constricts the arteries which bring blood around the body."

Which could lead to heart failure. Symptoms are pretty straightforward: chest pain or tightness in the chest and trouble breathing or shortness of breath.

"The story that we will often hear is that people will attribute that from muscle ache from shoveling the snow or shortness of breath because they haven't exercised in a while. But they should be attuned to those symptoms," Dadekian warned.

Cook says he now takes things a little bit easier than he used to.

"Going to be around to see my grandkids grow up," he said.

And maybe he can recruit them to help in the near future.