Shoveling Snow in the Winter strains the back and the heart

Well we are in the full swing of winter here in CT. I look outside my window and know that in a few hours I will have to go out and shovel my driveway…again. Shoveling snow is an activity that needs to be done properly so as not to injure your back. Turns out it can also injure your heart: it can strain the heart, particularly since the cold weather narrows blood vessels.

We have all heard the signs and symptoms of a heart attack. According the American Heart Association they are:
  • Chest Discomfort – Imagine an like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain. Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes, or that goes away and comes back.
  • Pain and Discomfort in other parts of the parts of the body such as: arm pain (in one or both arms, back pain, neck pain jaw pain, or even stomach pain
  • Shortness of Breath
  • Breaking into a Cold Sweat
  • Nausea
  • Lightheadness
According to Dr. Holly Anderson, director of education and outreach at the Ronald O. Perelman Heart Institute of New York-Presbyterian Hospital “Frigid air causes blood vessels to constrict as the body tries to prevent heat loss”.

This is a natural response that can also put people with heart conditions and those involved in strenuous exercise at greater risk of having a heart attack ," Andersen said.

The narrowing raises blood pressure and can reduce oxygen flow to the heart. Combined with a strenuous activity, such as shoveling snow, this can strain the heart, triggering a heart attack in those at risk.

Though women may also experience pain, they are more likely than men to experience shortness of breath, nausea or vomiting and back or jaw pain

Precautions should be taken if you have a weak or compromised heart. A heart attack can be easily mistaken for a pulled muscle. This is why it is important to be on the lookout for certain symptoms after you finish shoveling snow.

Dr. Anderson suggests that certain precautions be taken during the winter season to prevent a heart attack:

  • As with any activity, don’t forget to stretch. Jumping out of bed without warming up to shovel snow is not a good idea. Limber up by stretching or walking before you start.
  • Dress appropriately. Wear windproof and waterproof outer garments, place a scarf over your mouth and nose to warm up the air before you breathe it in and wear layers. Bundling up will help maintain your body heat. Ski socks are a good idea.
  • To avoid overexertion, try the less strenuous technique of pushing the snow with the shovel rather than lifting it. Also, take frequent breaks -- shovel for 15 minutes, then rest for 15.
  • If you're over 50, overweight, not active, are a smoker or have suffered a previous heart attack, consult a doctor before shoveling snow. Your risk is higher for a heart attack than the average joe. You may want to hire a local landscaping company to handle your driveway for the season.

Source: Heart attacks more common in winter; tips to lower your risk

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