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A new study by Canadian scientists claims to have found evidence that men are at a higher risk of heart attack during the days following a heavy snowfall.

According to a team of researchers at University of Montreal in Canada there has been a theoretical connection between shoveling post a heavy snowfall and increase in heart attack risk, but now there is evidence that snowfall is linked with heart attack in individuals.

For the study, scientists gathered reports of 128,073 hospital admissions and 68,155 deaths from heart attack in Quebec from November through April, every year between 1981 and 2014. They also collected weather information corresponding to the time frames and regions included in the study.

On comparing the medical and weather data they found that the most dangerous days occurred immediately following snowfalls. They found that about one third of hospital admissions and deaths due to heart attack occurred on days following a heavy snowfall and the risk was even stronger after snowfalls that lasted two to three days.

Study found that about 60 per cent of the heart attack cases in the study were in men. On days after snowfalls, men had increased relative risks of being admitted to the hospital or dying – 16 per cent and 34 per cent, respectively – compared to other days during the study period.

Researchers point out that this pattern was true regardless of age, cardiovascular risk factors and other health conditions. Women, on the other hand, did not appear to be at higher risk after snowfalls than on other days. Scientists caution that people need to be concerned about potential cardiovascular risks, in addition to snow-related falls and automobile accidents.

“Men are potentially more likely than women to shovel, particularly after heavy snowfalls. Snow shovelling is a demanding cardiovascular exercise requiring more than 75 per cent of the maximum heart rate, particularly with heavy loads” said co-author Nathalie Auger from University of Montreal Hospital Research Centre in Quebec, Canada.

Researchers say that snow shoveling is a very demanding and challenging activity for the heart and people should be aware that shoveling can be a real strain especially if one overdoes it. Men who are older or not in top cardiovascular shape should avoid shoveling if they can, Auger said, or may want to use a lightweight or ergonomically designed shovel.

Because the study only looked at trends over time, it is not able to establish a cause-and-effect relationship between snow-related activities like shoveling and heart attacks, researchers said. It is not know whether the people in the study actually shoveled snow, and researchers had no information about gender-specific shoveling habits, the size of areas shoveled or whether snow was removed manually or with a snow blower.

However, they believe that their hypothesis that men are more likely to shovel after a snowstorm, and that shoveling is responsible for their increased risk of heart attacks is plausible. The study was published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

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