Winter can bring with it a wonderland of white. It also ushers in the dreaded chore of shoveling snow.
Shoveling 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.
The rigors of shoveling snow, combined with harshness of winter weather, can put your heart at risk.
“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,” says Dr. Ameer Kabour, a 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.”
Dr. Kabour says deaths associated with shoveling snow are largely preventable. They often occur in individuals with preexisting heart conditions or those who are physically inactive.
The good news is that you can take several steps to stay safe while shoveling. Here are some guidelines to help protect your heart:
- Consult with your doctor: Before winter begins, 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 while shoveling.
- 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.
- Listen to your body: Pay attention to any warning signs, 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 seeking help from 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 your risks and stay safe during the winter months,” Dr. Kabour says. “Your heart health should always be a priority. Taking the necessary steps to protect it while shoveling snow is a key part of overall well-being.”
Learn about services available through ThedaCare Cardiovascular Care