We all know shoveling snow can be quite the workout. For some, it’s a welcomed exercise, good for the shoveler’s health. But for some, the cold weather, heavy snow and overall motion of shoveling can be too much.
“Just like any exercise, it’s important to be thoughtful before jumping in, and for some people, the risks may be too high,” says Dan Mudrick, M.D., MPH.
According to Mudrick, a cardiologist at OhioHealth Heart & Vascular Physicians, shoveling snow can be more dangerous than other workouts for a number of reasons:
- Working in the cold puts extra stress on the heart because peripheral blood vessels in the body constrict to preserve heat, forcing the heart to work harder.
- Many people are sedentary in their normal lives, but jump straight into very strenuous work shoveling snow, out of necessity or pride.
- Unlike other types of exercise where it is easy to slow down or stop when one feels tired, shoveling snow is a goal-directed activity and many people get into the mindset of pushing through until they finish the task. Sometimes, this leads to ignoring the feelings or symptoms that might warn someone they are overdoing it.
- Arm exercises requiring lifting and straining can also put extra strain on the heart relative to leg exercises.
Because of these reasons, shoveling snow can increase the risk of a cardiac event.
“Research suggests that people with coronary artery disease or family history of coronary artery disease, people over age 55, men, and people who are normally sedentary are at the highest risk for cardiac events related to shoveling snow,” Mudrick says.
Depending on the snow — is it a dusting or deep, wet snow — the level of exertion required to shovel may range from mild to very heavy. To shovel safely, Mudrick recommends planning ahead and taking frequent breaks. It can also be less of a strain to shovel or plow multiple times during a snowfall instead of waiting to remove a deep accumulation all at once.
“Pushing snow off the walk rather than lifting and shoveling can be less of a strain on the heart; similarly, using a small shovel or a snow blower can be safer,” he says.
And, Mudrick adds, don’t shovel snow right after a large meal: “Digestion requires energy, and also diverts blood flow away from the peripheral blood vessels, like cold does.”
Always remember to look out for symptoms of chest pressure, nausea and excessive shortness of breath.
If all this sounds like too much of a risk, Mudrick reminds us to not forget about the neighbor kid.
“You can make a kid’s day by paying him or her to shovel for you!”
A healthy heart requires more than the right exercise, you have to eat well too. Try the DASH diet to lower your blood pressure and increase your overall heart health!
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