Recreational skiers typically know that stretching and condition will help avoid sore muscles and soft tissue injuries, but now research shows the dangers of hitting the slopes unprepared include the spike in the number of heart attacks in the first two days of a ski holiday.
A study of tourists in the Austrian Alps showed that sudden cardiac deaths accounted for 40 per cent of all deaths on the slopes. The research, conducted by the Medical University of Innsbruck, found that half of those who suffered a heart attack had less than two hours of exercise per week prior to their ski holiday, the researchers said.
Every year millions of tourists visit the Tyrolean Alps to participate in a variety of winter sports, each of which carries a certain risk of accident and injury. Sudden cardiac death accounts for a staggering 40 per cent of the total fatalities amongst winter sports tourists in the Austrian Alps and of these acute myocardial infarction (heart attack) is the leading cause.
The researchers analyzed data from 1,500 patients admitted to the hospital with heart symptoms between November and April in the years between 2006 and 2010. Of these 170, had suffered a heart attack. And it was found that over half of the heart attacks occurred in the first two days and within two hours of hitting the slopes.
Only one fifth of the heart attack patients had known they had a heart condition yet seven in ten had some symptoms that would put them at greater risk of heart problems.
Interestingly, the average altitude at which a heart attack occurred was 1,350m – the average height of the ski resorts at St Anton, in Austria. However most patients lived at just 170m above sea level.
At high altitudes, there is less oxygen in the air so less in the bloodstream which makes the heart work harder. Combined with the cold, which makes the blood vessels constrict, creating more pressure, it adds even more workload for the heart, especially during exercise.
The authors recommended that people planning a ski trip should gradually increase their regular physical activity and once on holiday, the time spent skiing should also be increased gradually.