Health Day - ONLINE EDITION

Snow-Shoveling Health Tips as Winter Looms

Combination of exertion and cold weather poses heart attack risk, expert warns

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SATURDAY, Dec. 14, 2013 (HealthDay News) -- Shoveling snow can increase your risk of heart attack, and you should take precautions to protect yourself, an expert says.

"When the temperature outside drops, our blood vessels narrow to prevent our bodies from losing heat," Dr. Holly Andersen, director of education and outreach at the Ronald O. Perelman Heart Institute of NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center, said in a hospital news release. "This is a natural response that can also put people with heart conditions and those involved in strenuous exercise at greater risk of having a heart attack."

Andersen said shoveling snow is one of the most strenuous and dangerous winter activities. It can boost blood pressure and, combined with the effects of frigid temperatures, can significantly increase heart attack risk.

Andersen offered the following advice for safe shoveling and good heart health this winter:

  • Warm up with stretching and light activity before shoveling, exercising or beginning other strenuous activities.
  • Wear a scarf over your mouth and nose when you're shoveling snow to warm the air you're breathing. Layer clothes beneath a windproof and waterproof outer shell, which will help maintain body heat.
  • Push the snow rather than lift it. This will reduce the risk of overexertion.
  • Take frequent breaks while shoveling to give your muscles -- especially your heart -- a chance to relax. Try sharing the workload with a friend, which will also ensure that you are not alone in case of an emergency.
  • If you are over 50, overweight, out of shape or have suffered a heart attack, consult your doctor before shoveling snow or starting any exercise routine.

More information

Visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for more about winter health and safety.

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