Are you at risk when shoveling snow?
Who’s at Risk
Shoveling, and even pushing a heavy snow blower, are strenuous activities. Mix in cold temperatures and the strain on your heart can be enough to cause a heart attack. Especially at risk are:
- Someone who has had a prior heart attack.
- Someone with heart disease, high blood pressure or high cholesterol.
- Someone who has a sedentary lifestyle.
Protect Your Heart
- Check in with your doctor before taking on strenuous winter tasks – this is particularly important for those high-risk groups we just covered.
- Wait at least 30 minutes after waking up – most heart attacks happen early in the morning when the blood is more likely to clot. Then, take a short walk or other light activity for a few minutes to warm up your muscles.
- Don’t shovel in food before you start shoveling. When you eat a big meal right before shoveling your body starts to work digesting the meal and diverts blood from your heart to your stomach.
- Stay away from coffee and don’t smoke for at least one hour before or one hour after shoveling or during breaks. These are stimulants and elevate your blood pressure and heart rate.
- Start slowly, and take rest breaks at least every 15 minutes.
- Dress in layers and cover your mouth to keep from breathing in cold air. Breathing in cold air can trigger breathing problems or chest pains.
- Keep an eye out for signs of a heart attack.
- Chest pain or pressure, or tightness or burning in your chest.
- Pain in neck, arms, back, or jaw.
- Shortness of breath, lightheadedness, dizziness.
- Call 911 immediately if you think you are having a heart attack!
Shovel Smarter – Not Harder
Snow removal is also hard on your back. A shovelful of the white stuff can weigh 20 pounds or more per cubic foot, depending on how wet and dense the snow is. This kind of weight, plus the way you shovel, and the positions you’re in while shoveling, can put a LOT of strain on your back.
- Warm up your muscles by moving around and stretching. This lessens your chance of injuring your back.
- Stretch your low back hamstrings, Loosen up your arms and shoulders.
- Use a shovel with a curved handle or an adjustable handle length. It will lessen painful bending, requiring you to bend your knees only slightly and arch your back very slightly while keeping the shovel blade on the ground.
- A small, lightweight, plastic blade helps reduce the amount of weight that you are moving.
- Push the snow off to the side as you clear it (if you can), instead of lifting it.
- When you must lift a shovelful of snow, practice the same safe lifting techniques you use when lifting anything.
- Face the shovel straight on – have your shoulders and hips both squarely facing it and the pile of snow you want to remove.
- Grip the shovel with one hand as close to the blade as comfortably possible and the other hand on the handle (handle and arm length will vary the technique – about 12 inches apart is a good rule of thumb).
- Bend at the hips, not the lower back, and push the chest out, pointing forward. Then, bend your knees and lift with your leg muscles, keeping your back straight.
- Keep your loads light and don’t lift it if it is too heavy for you.
- Don’t twist your back to move the snow to its new location – always move your feet and pivot your whole body to face the new direction.
- Keep the heaviest part of the object close to your body at your center of gravity – do not extend your arms to throw the snow.
- Walk to the new location to deposit the item rather than reaching or tossing