American Heart Association Warns of Cold Weather Hazards

Ahead of record low temperatures, Iowans encouraged to prepare

DES MOINES, Iowa, (Jan. 29, 2019) — With bitter cold descending on Iowa and colder temperatures yet to come throughout the state, the American Heart Association is reminding Iowans that winter weather and common activities like snow shoveling can increase a person’s risk of a heart attack. The combination of colder temperatures and physical exertion increases the heart’s workload.

Heart-related incidents and deaths occur more often in winter.

People who are outdoors in cold weather should avoid sudden exertion, such as lifting a heavy shovel packed with snow, or a large bag of salt or snow melt. Even just walking through heavy, wet snow or snow drifts can strain the heart because most people are not conditioned to the physical stress of simple activities when temperatures drop.

Prepare for the outdoors, even if it is just a few minutes of exposure to the cold weather, by wearing layers of clothing. Air is trapped between layers, forming a protective insulation for your body. Also, wear a hat or head scarf as body heat can be lost through the head, and ears are especially prone to frostbite. Wear gloves or mittens on your hands and thick socks on your feet as hands and feet also tend to lose heat rapidly. Always change out of wet clothing.

Dressing improperly can lead to hypothermia, a potentially deadly problem that means the body temperature has fallen below 95 degrees. It occurs when your body cannot produce enough energy to keep the internal body temperature warm enough.

Children and the elderly are at special risk in winter weather as well as people with a history of heart-related problems.

Tips for heart-safe snow shoveling and outdoor activities:

  • Give yourself a break. Take frequent breaks indoors to avoid overstressing your heart. Pay attention to how your body feels during those breaks.
  • Don’t eat a big meal before or immediately after. Eating a large meal can put an extra load on your heart.
  • Do not drink alcohol before or immediately after. Alcohol can increase a person’s sensation of warmth and may cause you to underestimate the extra strain your body is under in the cold.
  • Use a small shovel or a snow thrower. The act of lifting heavy snow can raise blood pressure during the lift. It is safer to lift smaller amounts. When possible, simply push the snow.
  • Consult a doctor ahead of time. If you have a medical condition, do not exercise on a regular basis or are middle-aged or older, contact your doctor before you start activities like shoveling.

Before heading outdoors, learn the common signs of a heart-attack. Some heart attacks are sudden and intense — like those seen on television — but most heart attacks start slowly, with mild pain or discomfort. Often people affected are unsure what is happening and wait too long before getting help.

Signs that can mean a heart attack is happening:

  • Chest discomfort. Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes or that goes away and comes back. It can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain.
  • Discomfort in other areas of the upper body. Symptoms can include pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
  • Shortness of breath. With or without chest discomfort, shortness of breath can be an indicator of a heart attack, especially if it occurs while doing a non-strenuous activity.

Other signs may include breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.

If signs are present, call 911. Local Emergency Medical Services have expert technicians with equipment designed to save lives. An ambulance is safer than a car ride, and in an ambulance, you will receive emergency care sooner, decreasing the chances of heart damage. Faster treatment means a faster recovery.

For more information, visit


About the American Heart Association

The American Heart Association is devoted to saving people from heart disease and stroke –  the two leading causes of death in the world. We team with millions of volunteers to fund innovative research, fight for stronger public health policies, and provide lifesaving tools and information to prevent and treat these diseases. The Dallas-based association is the nation’s oldest and largest voluntary organization dedicated to fighting heart disease and stroke. To learn more or to get involved, call 1-800-AHA-USA1, visit or call any of our offices around the country. Follow us on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

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