Tips on staying healthy and safe while shoveling

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Digging out without passing out. Shoveling snow carries a real danger for triggering a heart attack. Clean up day is traditionally a busy day at the ER. Why? Because whether you realize it or not, clearing your driveway is like hitting the gym at the highest intensity.

Tarlan Hedayati, MD, attending physician Stroger Hospital: “Snow shoveling, like the snow we have out there right now, which is the wet, dense, heavy snow, is the same as running on a treadmill at the maximal intensity.”

And since most are not used to running on the treadmill sub six minute miles, the shock to the heart is powerful.

Dr Hedayati: “The people who are at risk most are people who tend to be sedentary, smokers, anyone with underlying coronary artery disease, history of heart attack, high blood pressure, high cholesterol.”

Pay attention to possible heart attack symptoms.

Dr Hedayati: “Chest pain, shortness of breath, to the point where you cannot catch your breath, light-headedness or dizziness. If you get nauseated or vomit while you are exerting yourself, these are all symptoms where we would say definitely stop, you need to rest and seek medical attention.”

Pay attention to the ground beneath you as well. Falls and related injuries soar after a snowfall.

Dr Hedayati: “We see fractures, lot of ankle sprains, strains, wrist injuries and then just back injuries either from falling and slipping on the snow or from the heavy lifting of these shovels of snow.”

Back pain can also occur simply lifting the snow incorrectly.   Brian Lunt from Motiv Training Gym offers some some shoveling tips:

  • Use a small shovel, avoid using a big shovel b/c it’s more weight and more exertion, so more frequent shoveling with a smaller shovel is better
  • Dress in layers, stay warm. Make sure you stay hydrated, you’re out there doing exercise in the cold, you’re going to be losing moisture so make sure you are drinking liquids, avoid alcohol in the cold
  • If you can push the snow that’s probably better than trying to shovel it, and a snow blower is probably better than a shovel although there have been cardio related injuries related to using a snow blower as well
  • If you are exerting yourself and you have any symptoms like chest pain, shortness of breath, to the point where you cannot catch your breath, light-headedness or dizziness. If you get nauseated or vomit while you are exerting yourself, these are all symptoms where we would say definitely stop, you need to rest and seek medical attention
  • The way you want to shovel snow is lift with your legs as much as possible, avoid straining your back. You have to bend over to actually do the shoveling, but when you then toss the snow make sure you are using your leg muscles

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