Shovel Smarts: Stay Safe this Winter

Shovel Smarts: Stay Safe this Winter

If you live in or around West Michigan, shoveling snow in the winter is inevitable. While it is a great form of physical activity, for some people it can be dangerous and may increase your risk of a heart attack. Before you trek outside to clear your driveway, make sure that you’re prepared to do it safely with these tips:

1. Don't eat a large meal, drink alcohol or smoke immediately before or after shoveling. These activities divert blood away from your heart and cause extra stress on your cardiovascular system. Drinking alcohol may impair your ability to sense when you are cold and overexerting yourself.  

2. Warm up before you start. Snow can be heavy and shoveling is a strenuous physical activity. Like any workout, warming up beforehand is essential. March in place or walk briskly for 5 minutes before you begin shoveling. 

3. Take frequent breaks and pay attention to your body's cues so you don't overload your heart. This is especially important if you are not usually physically active. Stay hydrated with water and avoid caffeine, which may raise your heart rate. 

4. Dress for the weather. Layer clothing to help insulate your body and keep your temperature stable. If you feel you’re overheating, remove one layer at a time. Wear a hat, as you lose a great deal of heat from your head. Cover your mouth with a thin scarf to warm the air you are breathing in. 

5. Don't perform feats of strength. If you must lift snow, use a small shovel and move small amounts at a time, especially if the snow is wet and heavy. Ideally, you should push the snow rather than lift it to reduce the strain on your heart. Heavy lifting can raise your blood pressure and heart rate and excessively strain your heart. That, plus the cold air, can cause your blood vessels to constrict and decrease blood flow to your heart, increasing your risk of a heart attack.  

6. Know when to seek help:

     • Chest discomfort, tightness or pressure
     • Chest pain radiates to your back, shoulders, jaw, neck or arms
     • Shortness of breath
     • Dizziness, lightheadedness
     • Nausea
     • Significant sweating

If you notice any of these symptoms, do not wait! Seek emergency medical evaluation at your nearest emergency department or call 911. Every minute can help save your life. A few minutes and extra caution before you start can help make for safe shoveling. 

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