Be Aware of Heart Disease Risk Factors Before Shoveling Snow

Dec 16, 2013, 17:19 ET from Northwestern Medicine

Simple precautions can help prevent heart attacks when shoveling

CHICAGO, Dec. 16, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- That snow isn't going to shovel itself, but Chicago-area residents, particularly those with known heart disease, should take extra precautions when clearing stairs, sidewalks and driveways of heavy winter snow, Northwestern Medicine® cardiovascular experts said.

Local residents should use the winter weather as a reminder to check for risks of heart disease, and if they have these risks, discuss them with a physician prior to shoveling snow. Common risk factors include diabetes, hypertension, obesity, being over 50, family history of heart disease, smoking and inactivity.

"Shoveling snow is hard work and puts a great deal of stress on the heart," said R. Kannan Mutharasan, MD, co-medical director of the Northwestern Memorial Hospital's new Sports Cardiology Program and assistant professor of cardiology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. "Chicago gets an average of 38 inches of snow each winter, and shoveling is a strenuous activity that can greatly increase blood pressure and heart rate. This puts a lot of strain on the heart, and can even lead to a heart attack. We want everyone picking up a shovel to do so safely."

After speaking with your doctor about your risk factors, consider the following precautions when dusting off your trusty shovel:

  • Bundle up: Cold temperatures reduce circulation to the body's extremities. Wear weather-appropriate, layered clothing and gloves to help maintain body temperature and circulation.
  • Start early: The longer snow sits on the ground, the more it compacts, making it denser. Removing compacted snow requires more exertion, placing stress on the heart. Snow is easier to shovel when it first falls.
  • Ease into it: As with any physical activity, your body needs to warm up to perform at its peak. Ease into shoveling and try not to do the entire job at once. Take breaks as needed.
  • Remain hydrated: The body needs hydration, even in cold weather. When shoveling snow, take frequent breaks and drink water regularly to prevent dehydration.
  • Avoid heavy eating: 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, don't consume alcohol just before 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, and use a small shovel, which encourages smaller loads of snow. If you must lift, avoid rounding your back, lift using your legs and buttocks, and clear four to six inches of depth at a time.
  • Listen to your body: The best indicator of whether or not snow shoveling is causing harm is to pay close attention to your 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. If you experience shortness of breath, chest, throat or arm discomfort or tightness, or lightheadedness, you should rest and seek medical attention if the symptoms persist.

For more tips on managing heart disease, visit Northwestern's Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute's website. To learn more about your personal heart health and potential risk factors, take our free online health survey.

About Northwestern Medicine®
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About Northwestern Memorial Hospital
Northwestern Memorial is one of the country's premier academic medical center hospitals and is the primary teaching hospital of the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. Along with its Prentice Women's Hospital and Stone Institute of Psychiatry, the hospital has 1,705 affiliated physicians and 6,769 employees.  Northwestern Memorial is recognized for providing exemplary patient care and state-of-the art advancements in the areas of cardiovascular care; women's health; oncology; neurology and neurosurgery; solid organ and soft tissue transplants and orthopaedics.

Northwestern Memorial has nursing Magnet Status, the nation's highest recognition for patient care and nursing excellence. Northwestern Memorial ranks 6th in the nation in the U.S. News & World Report 2013-14 Honor Roll of America's Best Hospitals. The hospital is recognized in 14 of 16 clinical specialties rated by U.S. News and is No. 1 in Illinois and Chicago in U.S. News' 2013-14 state and metro rankings, respectively. For 14 years running, Northwestern Memorial has been rated among the "100 Best Companies for Working Mothers" guide by Working Mother magazine. The hospital is a recipient of the prestigious National Quality Health Care Award and has been chosen by Chicagoans as the Consumer Choice according to the National Research Corporation's annual survey for 15 consecutive years. 

SOURCE Northwestern Medicine