By Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center Correspondent

For many of us, shoveling snow is a fact of life for living in New England. While it gets our driveways and walkways clear, snow shoveling can also cause a lot of injuries to our bones and muscles, and even increase the risk of suffering a cardiac event.

(Photo: iStockphoto)

(Photo: Shutterstock)

Hard on Your Heart

The combination of cold temperatures and physical activity increases the workload on your heart. The American Heart Association says that some people may be more likely to suffer a heart attack while shoveling snow — especially those in poor physical condition or with existing heart disease or history of stroke.

“Don’t let your work ethic endanger your heart,” says Dr. Pablo Quintero Pinzon, a cardiologist in the CardioVascular Institute at BIDMC and Beth Israel Deaconess HealthCare-Chelsea. “Take it slow when shoveling snow, especially if you’re not in great shape and aren’t able to find someone to help. Start slowly to avoid exerting yourself too quickly, and try to minimize the amount of walking you do through heavy, wet or drifting snow — this can strain your heart as well.”

To help make snow removal safer, Dr. Quintero Pinzon suggests you:

  • Give yourself a break. Rest frequently while shoveling so you don’t overstress your heart. Pay attention to how your body feels during those breaks.
  • Don’t eat a heavy mealor drink alcohol right before or after shoveling. A large meal can put an extra strain on your heart; alcohol may increase a person’s sensation of warmth, causing you to underestimate the extra strain your body is under in the cold.
  • Lift smaller amounts of snow more frequentlyrather than lugging a few huge shovelfuls. Lifting heavy snow can actually raise your blood pressure quickly.
  • 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. Look for these symptoms:

  • Discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts for a few minutes, or goes away and comes back.
  • Discomfort or pain in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach
  • Shortness of breath (with or without chest discomfort)
  • Breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness

Even if you’re not sure it’s a heart attack, have it checked out. Don’t wait more than five minutes to call 911.

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Above content provided by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.

Posted Feburary 2016