Tips for Safe Snow Shoveling in the Winter
By Mackenzie Distad
Exercise Specialist / Exercise Physiologist
The cold weather we experience in Minnesota, along with the physical exertion of shoveling snow, can put strain on the heart. Snow shoveling is a known trigger for heart attacks, and can be more strenuous than exercising “full throttle” on a treadmill. If you need to clear away the snow this winter, here are some tips for keeping your heart safe!
- Consult a doctor ahead of time. Before you start shoveling, talk with your doctor if you have a medical condition, do not exercise regularly or are middle-aged or older.
- Don’t eat a big meal before or soon after shoveling. Eating a large meal can put an extra load on your heart.
- Do not drink alcohol before or immediately after shoveling. 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.
- Give yourself a break. Take frequent breaks to avoid overstressing your heart. Pay attention to how your body feels during those breaks.
- 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.
- Learn the heart attack warning signs and listen to your body. Even if you’re not sure it’s a heart attack, have it checked out. Carry your cellphone in your pocket and call 911 immediately if you experience any signs of a heart attack.
- Check the weather. Besides cold temperatures, high winds, snow and rain also can steal body heat. Wind is especially dangerous, because it removes the layer of heated air from around your body. Similarly, dampness causes the body to lose heat faster than it would at the same temperature in drier conditions. If the weather conditions are becoming dangerous, try to stay inside – shoveling might need to wait.
- Be aware of the dangers of hypothermia. Heart failure causes most deaths in hypothermia. To prevent hypothermia, dress in layers of warm clothing, which traps air between layers forming a protective insulation. Wear a hat because much of the body’s heat can be lost through the head.
- Cover your face. Breathing in cold air can cause constriction of the airways in the lungs and also constriction of the blood vessels – increasing blood pressure. Use a mask or scarf to cover your mouth and nose if you are out in the cold to warm the air you inhale.
- Find someone to help or do it for you. If you are worried about the physical exertion or your heart’s safety, find someone to help. A family member, friend or maybe a teenage neighbor could remove the snow safely for a few bucks!
Patrick J. Skerrett. (2016, June 20). Protect your heart when shoveling snow – Harvard Health Blog [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/protect-your-heart-when-shoveling-snow-201101151153
Snow shoveling heart risks, tips to stay safe – News on Heart.org [Web log post]. (2016, January 22). Retrieved from https://news.heart.org/snow-shoveling-heart-risks-tips-to-stay-safe/