Snow is on the way – we may not get as much as originally predicted, but what we will get is going to be wet and heavy. Snow shoveling can be more strenuous than exercising full throttle on a treadmill. While this may not be a problem if an individual is healthy and fit, it can be dangerous if not.
Shoveling, even pushing a heavy snow blower, can cause sudden increase in blood pressure and heart rate, and the cold air can cause blood vessels to constrict, decreasing oxygen to the heart. This increases the amount of work done by the heart, and can possibly trigger a potentially fatal heart attack.
Before You Shovel Snow
Avoid shoveling when you first wake up, as most heart attacks occur early in the morning when blood is more prone to clotting. Wait for at least 30 minutes and warm up.
Do not eat a heavy meal before shoveling as this causes blood to get diverted from the heart to the stomach.
Warm up your muscles before starting by walking and stretching for a few minutes or marching in place.
Do not drink coffee or smoke for at least one hour before or one hour after shoveling or during breaks. These are stimulants. They elevate your blood pressure and heart rate.
If you have questions about if your heart is healthy enough to shovel, ask your doctor first – or better yet, support the local economy and pay a neighbor’s kid to do it.
While Shoveling Snow
Use a small shovel: shovel many small loads instead of fewer heavy ones to put less strain on your heart.
Begin slowly and take frequent, 15-minute breaks.
Drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration. Avoid caffeinated drinks like coffee or soda.
Dress in layers, to avoid hypothermia (low body temperature) or overheating.
Cover your head and neck (50% body heat lost thru head and neck).
Cover your mouth (breathing cold air can cause angina or trigger breathing problems).
Watch for warning signs of a heart attack such as lightheadedness, dizziness, shortness of breath, or tightness or burning in chest, neck, arms or back. If you think you are having a heart attack, STOP shoveling and call 911.