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Stay Safe while Shoveling Snow

snow shovelFor many of us, shoveling snow is a fact of life that goes along with living in New England. But, according to the American Heart Association, the risk of suffering a heart attack during snow shoveling may increase for some, especially those in poor physical condition or those with existing heart disease or a personal history of stroke.

"Don't let your work ethic endanger your heart," says Dr. David O'Halloran, a cardiologist at the CardioVascular Institute at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. "Snow shoveling is for the fit. If you are not in great shape, or if you have heart disease, find someone else to do it for you. If that's not possible, please - take it easy."

The combination of colder temperatures and physical activity increases the workload on the heart. People outdoors in cold weather should avoid sudden exertion, like lifting a heavy shovel full of snow. Even walking through heavy, wet snow or snow drifts can strain a person's heart.

To help make snow removal safer, follow these tips:

  • Give yourself a break. Take frequent rest breaks during shoveling so you don't overstress your heart. Pay attention to how your body feels during those breaks.
  • Don't eat a heavy meal prior to or soon after shoveling. Eating a large meal can put an extra strain on your heart.
  • Use a small shovel or consider a snow thrower. 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, simply push the snow.
  • Don't drink alcoholic beverages before or immediately after shoveling. Alcohol may increase a person's sensation of warmth and may cause them to underestimate the extra strain their body is under in the cold.
  • Be aware of the dangers of hypothermia. To prevent hypothermia, dress in layers of warm clothing, which traps air between layers forming a protective insulation. Wear a hat because much of your body's heat can be lost through your head.

Most heart attacks start slowly, with mild pain or discomfort. Often people affected aren't sure what's wrong and wait too long before getting help. Here are signs that can mean a heart attack is happening:

  • Chest discomfort. Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes, or that goes away and comes back. It can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain.
  • Discomfort in other areas of the upper body. Symptoms can include pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
  • Shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort.
  • Other signs may include breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.

As with men, women's most common heart attack symptom is chest pain or discomfort. But women are somewhat more likely than men to experience some of the other common symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting, and back or jaw pain.

Learn the heart attack warning signs and listen to your body, but remember this: Even if you're not sure it's a heart attack, have it checked out. Fast action can save lives - maybe your own. Don't wait more than five minutes to call 911.

Above content provided by the American Heart Association in partnership with Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.

Posted December 2011

Contact Information

Beth Israel Deaconess HealthCare
(Off-site Primary Care Practices)
1-877-406-3963

Contact Information

CardioVascular Institute at
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center
330 Brookline Avenue
Boston, MA 02215
888-99-MYCVI
617-632-9777

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