How to protect your heart when shoveling snow

Published 2:59 pm Friday, February 19, 2021

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This week’s cold weather, snow, and ice was a shock to many in communities throughout Kentucky. Extreme temperatures and the exertion that comes with cold-weather activities can be a jolt to the body too. So, before shoveling snow off that driveway or sidewalk, keep in mind some key facts to keep you healthy and safe.

“Cold weather can narrow arteries and put extra strain on your heart,” said Robert Sawyer, MD, an interventional cardiologist associated with Baptist Health Lexington. “People with a history of high blood pressure or heart disease have an increased risk of a heart attack when performing strenuous activities such as shoveling snow.”

Even if temperatures rise above 40 degrees, body temperatures can be lowered when factoring in wind chill and wet clothing from melting snow or ice. “If you participate in heavy outdoor activities remember, your body is already working hard to keep you warm, so try to take frequent breaks and don’t overdo it,” Sawyer said.

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Here are four heart-healthy tips to keep in mind when shoveling snow:

  • Take frequent rest breaks, so you don’t over-stress your heart. Pay attention to how your body feels during those breaks.
  • Don’t eat a heavy meal before or soon after shoveling. Eating a large meal can put an extra load on your heart.
  • Use a small shovel or consider a snow blower. The act of lifting heavy snow can raise blood pressure acutely during the lift. It is safer to lift smaller amounts more times than to lug a few huge shovelfuls of snow. When possible, push the snow.
  • Don’t drink alcoholic beverages before or immediately after shoveling. Alcohol may increase a person’s sensation of warmth and cause them to underestimate the extra strain their body is under in the cold.