By Jennifer Bauer, Physical Therapist
Tis the season for clearing snow from our driveways and sidewalks. Whether you are 20 or 80 years old, there are inherent dangers that go along with shoveling snow. The exertion expended on shoveling snow can be as taxing on your heart as being on a treadmill for a medical stress test! Shoveling increases your heart rate and blood pressure; and cold weather decreases the flow of oxygenated blood to the heart. In combination, shoveling has the potential to cause a cardiac event such as a heart attack. Always take the time to recognize the symptoms of over-exertion including shortness of breath, nausea, lightheadedness, discomfort in the chest, neck, jaw, shoulders, left arm or back.
What’s the best way to reduce your risk? Ideally, plan and have someone else clear your snow. However, if you do decide to shovel, there are ways you can reduce the stress on your cardiovascular system. Dress in warm layers. Plan to clear snow at least once while it is still falling and then again after the snow fall has ceased. Try to push the snow rather than lift it and if you must lift, try to squat with your legs apart, bending at the knees and hips versus your back. Take frequent breaks. Utilize a wide all-purpose snow shovel for light snow; and utilize a metal shovel for wet and heavy snow. Use a smaller shovel to reduce exertion with lifting. Avoid heavy meals, smoking cigarettes, or drinking alcohol before clearing the snow as these activities place extra stress on the heart. Don’t take chances when it comes to shoveling. Utilize good judgement to stay safe and healthy this winter season!