As Midwesterners brace for predicted heavy snowfalls, northwestern medical experts of the Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute urge anyone with any kind of heart disease to take extra caution not to over-exert themselves when removing snow.
Bluhm clinicians recommend that persons with known cardiovascular disease check with their doctor first before they try to shovel snow.
This precaution is necessary because shoveling is a strenuous physical activity that raises both blood pressure and heart rate.
As long as you get the doctor’s clearance to do the physical activity, go ahead. But please use the following precautions:
Bundle up: Cold temperatures reduce circulation to the body’s extremities. Wearing weather-appropriate, layered clothing will help maintain body temperature and circulation.
Start early: Snow is easier to shovel when it first falls. The longer snow sits on the ground, it compacts, which makes it heavier. Removing compacted snow requires more exertion, placing stress on the heart.
Start gently: As with any physical activity or cardio exercise, the body must warm up. Ease into shoveling. Sudden exertion in cold weather is dangerous for the heart.
Keep hydrated: The body needs hydration, even in cold weather. When shoveling snow, take breaks and drink water regularly to prevent overexertion and dehydration.
Eat only lightly: Eating a small meal before shoveling will provide a source of energy. However, digestion puts strain on the heart, so eating a large meal before any physical activity should be avoided. Additionally, alcohol and caffeine should also be avoided just prior to shoveling.
Don’t lift too much: Large loads of snow can be heavy and place strain on the heart, back and neck. Push, instead of lifting, small loads of snow. Using a small shovel will encourage smaller loads of snow and be lighter to move.
Listen to your body: Experts say the best indicator of whether or not snow shoveling is causing harm is to pay close attention to the body’s signals. If you begin to feel winded or overexerted while shoveling, take a break. These are signs that you’re doing more than your body can handle. At the first sign of any chest pain or discomfort, stop shoveling immediately and seek medical attention.
Other risk factors include:
- Being over the age of 50
- Having a history of heavy smoking
- Being overweight
- Having a sedentary lifestyle
All of these red flags are reasons get your physician’s clearance before you try to remove snow.
For more tips on managing heart disease, please visit the Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute online at www.nmh.org
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