Winter brings with it a wonderland of white, and it also ushers in the dreaded chore of shoveling snow. This task can be more dangerous than you might think, particularly for your heart. Every year, people are injured while clearing snow from their driveways and walkways, according to the National Safety Council.
Shoveling snow can have serious consequences for your heart with individuals having heart attacks or other cardiac events while attempting to clear heavy, wet snow.
“Snow shoveling is a physically demanding task, and it places a significant strain on the cardiovascular system, especially for those who are not accustomed to strenuous physical activity,” said Ameer Kabour, M.D., cardiologist and Senior Medical Director of Cardiovascular Services with ThedaCare Cardiovascular Care. “Cold weather constricts blood vessels, which can increase blood pressure and the risk of blood clots, making snow shoveling even riskier.”
Preventing Snow Shoveling-Related Deaths
Dr. Kabour added these deaths are largely preventable, often occurring in individuals with preexisting heart conditions or those who are physically inactive.
The good news is that there are several steps you can take to help prevent snow shoveling-related deaths. Here are some guidelines to help protect your heart:
- Consult with Your Doctor: Before winter begins, you should have a conversation with your health care provider, especially if you have a history of heart disease or other cardiovascular risk factors. Your doctor can assess your readiness for the physical exertion of snow shoveling and provide personalized guidance.
- Warm-Up: Just as you would before any exercise, warm up your muscles and stretch. A few minutes of light exercise or stretching can prepare your body for the physical demands of shoveling.
- Dress for the Weather: Layer your clothing to stay warm and protect yourself from the cold. Wearing a hat, gloves, and a scarf can help prevent heat loss through your head and extremities.
- Choose the Right Shovel: Select a lightweight, ergonomic snow shovel with a curved handle. This design minimizes the amount of bending and lifting you need to do, reducing strain on your heart.
- Push, Don’t Lift: Whenever possible, push the snow rather than lifting it. This reduces the strain on your heart, as pushing is less physically demanding.
- Take Frequent Breaks: Avoid the temptation to clear every inch of snow in one go. Overexertion is a significant risk factor for heart-related issues. Take regular breaks to rest and recover during your snow removal efforts.
- Stay Hydrated: Cold weather can be deceptive, and you may not realize how much you’re sweating. Be sure to drink water to stay properly hydrated during your snow-clearing efforts.
- Listen to Your Body: Pay attention to any warning signs from your body, such as chest pain, shortness of breath, dizziness, or lightheadedness. If you experience any of these symptoms, stop shoveling immediately and seek medical attention.
- Enlist Help: Consider enlisting the help of a neighbor, friend, or family member, or hire a professional snow removal service if you have heart health concerns or are physically unable to do the task safely.
Post-Shoveling Heart Health
Your heart health isn’t just at risk while you’re shoveling snow; it’s also important to nurture it afterward. Here are some recommendations to help in recovery:
- Rest and Recover: After shoveling, give your body time to recover. Sit down, relax, and warm up gradually to avoid sudden temperature changes. Stay warm and dry after shoveling to maintain your body temperature.
- Monitor for Symptoms: Be vigilant for any delayed symptoms of heart issues that might occur after shoveling, such as chest discomfort, shortness of breath, or excessive fatigue.
- Healthy Diet and Exercise: Maintaining a heart-healthy lifestyle year-round can reduce the risks associated with strenuous activities like snow shoveling. Eat a balanced diet, exercise regularly, and manage stress to keep your heart in good shape.
“By taking precautions, consulting your doctor, and using proper shoveling techniques, you can help minimize these risks and stay safe during the winter months,” said Dr. Kabour. “Your heart health should always be a priority, and taking the necessary steps to protect it while shoveling snow is a key part of overall well-being.”
For more than 110 years, ThedaCare® has been committed to improving the health and well-being of the communities it serves in Northeast and Central Wisconsin. The organization delivers care to more than 650,000 residents in 17 counties and employs approximately 7,000 providers and team members. ThedaCare has 180 points of care, including eight hospitals. As an organization committed to being a leader in Population Health, team members are dedicated to empowering people to live their unique, best lives. ThedaCare also partners with communities to understand needs, finding solutions together, and encouraging health awareness and action. ThedaCare is the first in Wisconsin to be a Mayo Clinic Care Network Member, giving specialists the ability to consult with Mayo Clinic experts about a patient’s care. ThedaCare is proud to partner with Children’s Wisconsin and Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin health network to enhance convenient access to the most advanced levels of specialty care. ThedaCare is a not-for-profit health system with a level II trauma center, comprehensive cancer treatment, stroke and cardiac programs, as well as primary care.
For more information, visit thedacare.org or follow ThedaCare on social media. Members of the media should call Cassandra Wallace, Public and Media Relations Consultant at 920.442.0328 or the ThedaCare Regional Medical Center-Neenah switchboard at 920.729.3100 and ask for the marketing person on call.