Shoveling Heavy Snow Can Be a Major Heart Risk

Dec 12, 2010, 07:00 ET from Northwestern Memorial Hospital

Snow shoveling in frigid temps is a risky combination for heart disease patients

CHICAGO, Dec. 12, 2010 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- As Midwesterners brace for seasonal snowfalls, Northwestern Medicine experts of the Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute urge persons with known heart disease to take caution when removing snow.  Because shoveling is a physical activity that raises heart rate and blood pressure, Bluhm clinicians recommend that persons with known cardiovascular disease consult their physician before heading out to shovel snow.  

There are other risk factors.  Being over the age of 50, having a history of heavy smoking, being obese and having a sedentary lifestyle are all reasons get your doctor's clearance before attempting to remove snow. If doctor's clearance is granted, 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.  

Ease into it:  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.  

Remain hydrated: The body needs hydration, even in cold weather. When shoveling snow, take breaks and drink water regularly to prevent overexertion and 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, alcohol and caffeine should also be avoided just prior to shoveling.

Don't pick up 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.

For more tips on managing heart disease, please visit the Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute online at    

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 comprises 854 beds, 1,603 affiliated physicians and 7,144 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 possesses nursing Magnet Status, the nation's highest recognition for patient care and nursing excellence, and it is listed in 12 clinical specialties in U.S. News & World Report's 2010 "America's Best Hospitals" guide. For 10 years running, it 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 11 years.  

Available Topic Expert(s): For information on the listed expert(s), click appropriate link.

Donald Lloyd-Jones, MD

Rahul Khare

Robert O. Bonow, MD

SOURCE Northwestern Memorial Hospital