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  • Writer's pictureMaria H. Drzaszcz

Heart healthy tips for snow shoveling

Shoveling snow is a strenuous activity that also raises your heart rate. (Courtesy Photo)

It’s only February with much of Old Man Winter still left to come. January proved to be a very snowy month, with this past snowstorm dumping heavy snow totals that this area hasn’t seen in a while. With snowfall in the 10 inches plus range, many have no choice but to break out the shovels and get to work.

According to the American Heart Association, “many people face an increased risk of heart attack or sudden cardiac arrest after shoveling heavy snow.” Cold temperatures impact your body by increasing blood pressure and also constricting coronary arteries. Shoveling snow is a strenuous activity that also raises your heart rate. These factors put together can lead to acute cardiac events. I would like to go over several things to keep in mind when shoveling snow.

Check in with yourself and consider personal risk factors before you head outside. Take a second to ask yourself how much physical activity you’ve been doing lately. Also, ask yourself how you’re feeling today. If you’ve been particularly sedentary, then it’s probably best to hire someone to remove your snow. If you are not feeling well or are recovering from an illness such as flu, pneumonia, or COVID-19, it is also better to have someone else remove snow. People with cardiovascular risk factors, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, current or former smokers and those who have already had heart attack, stroke, or been treated for heart failure, should avoid snow shoveling. Elderly people and those who have had coronary artery bypass grafting surgery or angioplasty should also not show shovel. Consider hiring a landscape company that does snow removal or hiring a neighborhood teenager that would enjoy the extra cash and the exercise.

Start slow and pay attention to your body. It is important to start slow, pace yourself and pay close attention to how you’re feeling as you make progress down the sidewalks or driveway. You should take frequent 15 minute breaks or ask someone else to finish the job if you need to go inside and rest.

Warm up before shoveling. Take a few minutes before to stretch, move around and get your blood flowing before undertaking any strenuous activity, including shoveling snow.

Do not eat a heavy meal prior or right after shoveling. Eating a large meal can put extra stress on your heart. Make sure you are well hydrated before heading out as well.

Use a smaller shovel or a snow blower. A shovel full of wet snow is especially heavy when the shovel is big. It may take longer, but many small loads will be better than fewer heavy ones. Also, try to push the snow with the shovel rather than lifting and throwing it. Snow blowers still are exercise since you have to push them, but they are often easier and less stress on the heart than shoveling.

Pay attention to your body’s warning signs and know the common signs of heart trouble. If you experience chest pain or pressure, radiating left arm, jaw pain, cold sweats, shortness of breath, lightheadedness, dizziness, irregular heart rhythm and/or nausea or vomiting, stop shoveling immediately and dial 911.

Stay safe and healthy for the duration of winter!

Maria H. Drzaszcz, a Hammonton resident, is a registered nurse with 14 years critical care experience and is the proud mom of three young children.


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