SHOVEL SNOW SAFELY- Chris Heberer, M.D., Chief of Emergency Medicine

It happens every winter whether we like it or not. The temperature drops, we curl up in our bed for the night and by the time we wake up our yard and driveway are covered in snow. While shoveling snow may not be our favorite activity, with the proper precautions it can be a great cardiovascular workout.


Shoveling can be made more difficult by the weather. Cold air makes it harder to work and breathe, which adds extra strain on the body. There is also the elevated risk for hypothermia, a decrease in body temperature. Shoveling also causes a quick increase in heart rate and blood pressure, making the heart work overtime. Research has shown an increasing number of fatal heart attacks among individuals who shoveled after heavy snowfalls.


So what can we do to protect ourselves?

  • If you have a history of heart trouble, talk to your doctor before you take on the task of shoveling snow.

  • Avoid stimulants like caffeine or nicotine before shoveling.

  • Drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration.

  • Dress in several layers so you can remove a layer as needed.

  • Stretch/warm up your muscles before shoveling. Well warmed-up muscles will work more efficiently and be less likely to be injured.

  • Pick the right shovel for you. Talk to the professionals where you purchase your snow shovel and see what they recommend and why.

  • Begin shoveling slowly to avoid placing a sudden demand on your heart.

  • Pace yourself and take breaks as needed.

  • Practice proper lifting with your knees to avoid injury to your back.

  • If you feel pain — stop. This is your body’s way of telling you something is wrong.

By following these simple guidelines you can keep your heart, and your back, safe and healthy all winter long.



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