Risk factors for heart attacks when performing strenuous activities include diabetes, hypertension, obesity, being over 50, family history of heart disease, smoking and inactivity - which is why it’s a good idea to take the following precautions to lower your risk when next picking up your snow shovel:
- Bundle up: Cold temperatures reduce circulation to the extremities. Wear weather-appropriate, layered clothing and gloves to maintain body temperature and circulation.
- Start early: The longer snow sits on the ground, the more dense it becomes. Removing compacted snow requires more exertion. Snow is easier to shovel when it first falls.
- Ease into it: Your body needs to warm up to perform at its peak. Ease into shoveling and try not to do the entire job all at once. Take as many breaks as you need.
- Remain hydrated: Your body needs hydration, even in cold weather. When shoveling snow, drink water regularly to prevent dehydration and exhaustion.
- Avoid heavy eating: Eating a small meal before shoveling will provide energy. However, digestion puts strain on the heart, so eating a large meal before any strenuous physical activity should be avoided. Also don’t consume alcohol just before shoveling.
- Don’t lift too much: Large loads of snow can place a heavy strain on your heart as well as your back and neck. Use a small shovel, which encourages smaller loads of snow. Always lift using your legs and buttocks, and clear a maximum of four to six inches of depth at a time.
- Listen to your body: Pay close attention to your body’s signals. If you feel winded or overexerted while shoveling, take a break. These are signs that you’re doing more than your body can handle. If you experience shortness of breath; chest, throat or arm discomfort or tightness; or lightheadedness, you should rest immediately and seek medical attention if these symptoms persist.