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December 15, 2005
Caution: Be careful when shovelling snow say Toronto EMS paramedics
Toronto Emergency Medical Services (EMS) paramedics urge all Toronto residents to exercise caution and common sense when shovelling snow.

“Every year our paramedics have to deal with preventable deaths from apparent heart attacks related to snow shovelling,” said Bruce Farr, Chief and General Manager of Toronto EMS. “For certain people, snow shovelling may be the trigger for this sudden and silent killer. Healthy middle-aged or older men and women may be at increased risk when attempting to shovel, especially when the snow is wet and heavy.”

Shovelling is a strenuous activity, with physical effects equivalent to intense treadmill running. Cold weather and snow shovelling work independently to increase blood pressure and heart rate, so the combination of shovelling in the cold can be deadly.

Inhalation of cold air can trigger constriction of the coronary arteries, diminishing oxygen supply to the heart. The increase in heart rate and blood pressure can dislodge fragments of cholesterol plaques from blood vessel walls which can lead to clots, reducing oxygen supply and possibly leading to a heart attack.

If you are over 40 years of age and have a history of heart disease, high blood pressure or elevated cholesterol, or if you are a smoker, overweight or lead a sedentary lifestyle, you are at risk of a heart attack every time you shovel snow. If you can, buy a snowblower or hire someone to do your shovelling for you until you can improve your health and reduce your heart attack risks.

If you decide to shovel, do warm-up exercises outside (vigorous walking and some stretching) to increase your heart rate gradually and allow your body to get accustomed to the cold. When you shovel, start gradually. Avoiding heavy lifts by moving small loads and use your legs and other large muscle groups to avoid back strain. Pace yourself and take breaks when you feel tired or out of breath.

If you experience any of the following feelings or sensations, do not ignore them:
• pressure or crushing pain in your chest, some sweating, nausea or vomiting
• pain that starts in your chest and extends to the jaw, left arm or left shoulder
• tightness in your chest
• any abnormal or prolonged shortness of breath
• a feeling of “heartburn” which can mimic a heart attack.

“Do not delay in calling 9-1-1. Stop what you are doing immediately and rest. Your life may depend on it,” added Farr.

The City of Toronto provides sidewalk snow clearing in most of Toronto, however, there are a few areas where equipment is unable to clear sidewalks. Most of these areas are in the older, central parts of the city.

For seniors and the disabled living in areas where the City is not able to clear sidewalks, contact the City of Toronto at 416-392-7768. Please note that the service applies to the sidewalk in front of your home only and does not include driveways or walkways leading to homes.

For more information, visit our Web site at

Media contact:

Larry Roberts
Media Relations and Communications



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