Thus far this year, my prayers have been answered and we haven't seen the enormous amount of snow that we experienced in the Washington, DC area last year. However, that has not been the case for New England, New York/New Jersey, and most of the upper Midwest where they have already seen snow storms that have dumped a foot-plus of snow each time. And we all know, that following the fall of that wonderful white stuff (I am being sarcastic here), comes the tough chore of clearing it from walkways, driveways, and - for some - sidewalks.
This tends to be a period of time where many experience harsh chest pains if not full blown heart attacks. Those of us suffering from cholesterol, high blood pressure, atrial fibrulation, or people who smoke need to pay particular attention and caution to the dangers of shoveling snow. I still remember a dear family friend (an elderly woman who was known to be tough and in fairly good shape) drop dead while shoveling her driveway following a bad snowstorm in the late 80's - no one had seen it coming!!
There are ways to practice safe snow shoveling and guard against a heart attack, but the bottom line is that if you are not physically fit you should probably leave the shoveling to someone else. I like to think of myself as fairly fit, but I also do use a few tactics that help keep pressure on the heart at a minimum:
Practice the push approach - Rather than shoveling and lifting large amounts of snow, try pushing it to the side and lifting small amounts. Depending on the type of snow, you may end up lifting heavy, wet snow that could damage your heart or at the very least leave you with a very sore back.
Stay ahead of the snow fall - During a snow fall, if I am at home, I like to head out every 20-30 minutes and clear the nominal amount that has fallen for about 10-15 minutes. This will keep you from having to spend hours clearing snow that is 8-14 inches deep drastically increasing the chances of a heart attack or heart damage.
Be prepared and pace yourself - If you are planning on being out for a considerable amount of time shoveling snow, make sure to dress warmly, stretch, and more importantly take frequent breaks while shoveling.
The most important thing to keep in mind is that if you experience any heart attack symptoms such as chest pains, shoulder, neck or arm pain, shortness of breath, dizziness, sweating or nausea you should stop immediately and seek emergency medical help.
Published On: January 24, 2011