Heart Association offers tips for safer snow shoveling

CHICAGO—The American Heart Association warns that for some people, shoveling snow can lead to a fatal heart attack. For most people, shoveling snow may not lead to any health problems. However, the risk of a heart attack during snow shoveling increases for those who are middle-aged or older, people who lead a sedentary lifestyle, or people who have been diagnosed with a heart condition. The American Heart Association encourages these people to be extra careful when shoveling snow.

One of the reasons heart attacks can occur during snow shoveling is the combination of colder temperatures and physical exertion. Cold weather places an additional strain on the heart when the body is working to keep warm. As people get older, they become less sensitive to the cold and may be less aware of the stress their hearts are under. This combination of sudden physical effort and cold weather increases the workload for the heart. As a result, too much strain on the heart during these conditions can cause a heart attack.

Safe shoveling tips

Consult a doctor. If you have a medical condition or don’t exercise on a regular basis or are middle aged or older, schedule a meeting with your doctor prior to the first anticipated snowfall.

Give yourself a break. Take frequent rest breaks during shoveling so you don’t overstress your heart. Pay attention to how your body feels during those breaks.

Don’t eat a heavy meal prior to shoveling. Eating a large meal can put an extra load on your heart.

Don’t drink alcoholic beverages before shoveling. Alcohol may increase a person’s sensation of warmth and may cause them to underestimate the extra strain their body is under in the cold.

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 your body’s heat can be lost through your head.

Use a small shovel. The act of lifting heavy snow can raise blood pressure acutely during the lift. It is safer to lift smaller amounts more times, than to lug a few huge shovelfuls of snow.

Listen to your body. If you feel the warning signs for heart attack, stop what you’re doing immediately and call 9-1-1.

Some of the warning signs of a heart attack include:

Uncomfortable pressure, fullness, squeezing or pain in the center of the chest that lasts for more than a few minutes, or goes away and comes back.

Pain spreading to the shoulders, neck and arms.

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