Shoveling snow is an unavoidable fact of winter. Aside from being time consuming, it can be extremely risky for older adults and high-risk individuals. Exertion from snow removal can put serious strain on a person's heart and increase the chance of heart attack.
Cardiologist Dr. Ajay Parikh, of Advocate South Suburban Hospital, in Hazel Crest, offers heart healthy tips for shoveling snow.
"Shoveling might seem like a simple task, but it is an extremely physical activity that raises heart rate and blood pressure," said Dr. Parikh. "If you begin to feel winded of overexerted while shoveling, take a break. Don't try to do more than your body can handle." At the first sign of any chest pain or discomfort, stop shoveling immediately.
Dr. Parikh also warns that anyone with a history of heart trouble or other risk factors should be particularly diligent about safety removing snow. "If you have any history of cardiovascular disease, definitely consult your physician prior to shoveling snow," said Dr. Parikh. "People over the age of 50, smokers, or those who have a typically sedentary lifestyle should be especially cautious when removing snow."
Starting slowly will help the body adjust itself to shoveling. "Instead of running out the door and removing snow at a fast pace, take your time," said Dr. Parikh. "Sudden exertion in the cold can be very dangerous for your heart. As with any cardio activity, you need to warm up. Start with light loads of snow and build up as your body adjusts."
Dr. Parikh offers these additional tips for protecting the heart while shoveling snow this winter:
- When the snow starts falling, start shoveling. "New snow is lighter and easier to shovel," said Dr. Parikh. "As snow becomes heavy and compacted, additional stress is placed on the heart during removal."
- Remain hydrated. "When it is cold outside, it is easy to forget that you can still become over-heated and dehydrated during physical activity," said Dr. Parikh. "Take breaks and drink plenty of water."
- Use proper form and equipment. "Using a shovel that is the correct size and weight will require less exertion and make shoveling easier," said Dr. Parikh. "Lifting with the knees, instead of the back is important and of course pushing instead of lifting puts less strain on the body."
- Avoid heavy eating prior to shoveling. "Having some food in your stomach is good for energy, but eating a large amount of food is not a good idea," said Dr. Parikh. "Digesting food puts additional strain on your heart, so you should avoid eating before any exercise."
- Listen to your body. "Don't keep pushing if your body starts to send you signals that it is worn out," said Dr. Parikh. "Taking a break and regaining your energy is more important that completing the job quickly."
- Try not to pick up too much snow at once. "Taking small loads of snow might take longer than filling the shovel, but it will require less energy and place less strain on your heart, back and neck," said Dr. Parikh.
- Avoid alcohol. "It is a bad idea to out in cold weather after consuming alcohol," said Dr. Parikh. "Don't drink prior to shoveling."
"If you have concerns about your physical ability to safely shovel snow, don't hesitate to consult your doctor," said Dr. Parikh. "If you still have concerns, it is a great excuse to make your kids responsible for shoveling snow this winter."
To make an appointment to see a MidAmerica Physician call 708-636-7575.