Take Care of Your Heart When Shoveling Snow

Dec 20, 2012, 15:17 ET from Northwestern Memorial Hospital

Shoveling snow in frigid temps is a risky combination for heart disease patients

CHICAGO, Dec. 20, 2012 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- As Chicago and much of the Midwest gears up for its first major snowfall of the season, Northwestern Medicine® cardiovascular experts are urging people, particularly those with known heart disease, to take caution when removing snow.

"Shoveling snow is a very strenuous physical activity that puts a high degree of stress on the heart and its circulation," said Charles Davidson, MD, clinical chief of cardiology at Northwestern Memorial Hospital and medical director at Northwestern's Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute. "It has a profound effect on both the heart rate and blood pressure. In people with risk factors for heart disease, this activity may be putting them at risk for very serious heart problems including heart attacks."  

Patients need to understand their risk for heart disease prior to undertaking snow shoveling. Well-known risk factors for heart disease include smoking, being over the age of 50, diabetes, hypertension, elevated cholesterol, and a family history of heart disease. Being relatively inactive or obese are also factors that may further add to their risk of heart disease. People with risk factors should discuss with their physician prior to snow shoveling. If medical clearance is given, consider the following precautions:

  • Bundle up: Cold temperatures reduce circulation to the body's extremities. Wearing weather-appropriate, layered clothing and gloves 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 and try not to do the entire job at once and 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, 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 lift and use a small shovel, which encourages smaller loads of snow.
  • 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. 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.

Northwestern Medicine is the shared vision that joins Northwestern Memorial HealthCare and Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in a collaborative effort to transform medicine through quality healthcare, academic excellence and scientific discovery.

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 Memorial HealthCare
Northwestern Memorial HealthCare is the parent corporation of Chicago's Northwestern Memorial Hospital, an 894-bed academic medical center hospital and Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital, a 205-bed community hospital located in Lake Forest, Illinois.

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.  And, Northwestern Memorial ranks 12th in the nation in the U.S. News & World Report 2012 Honor Roll of "America's Best Hospitals". The hospital is ranked in 12 of 16 clinical specialties rated by U.S. News and is No. 1 in Illinois and Chicago in U.S. News' 2012 state and metro rankings, respectively. For 13 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 13 years. 

SOURCE Northwestern Memorial Hospital