Snow shoveling tips to avoid a heart attack or stroke

March 12, 2019
man shoveling snow
Photo: Getty Images.

UCHealth cardiologist has some advice for staying safe as you head outside to shovel snow.

“The classic medical school textbook photo of a heart attack shows a middle-aged man clutching his chest with one hand and a snow shovel with the other,” said UCHealth cardiologist Dr. Lance Richards. That’s because shoveling snow is really the perfect ­storm scenario for a heart attack or stroke.

Richards offers the following safety tips for shoveling snow or any wintry activity:

  • See your doctor before engaging in strenuous outdoor activities, especially in cold weather, if you have known cardiovascular disease or risk factors (such as diabetes or high blood pressure).
  • Stay physically active. Don’t go from being sedentary one day to skiing the next.
  • Drink ample water. Dehydration lowers blood volume, which can increase the risk of heart attack and stroke.
  • Dress warmly. If your body is cold, your heart has to work harder to maintain your core temperature.
  • Warm up. Don’t roll out of bed and start shoveling or hit the slopes. Get up, move around, do some stretches and drink water first.
  • Take it easy. If you’re shoveling, use a smaller shovel and scoop small amounts of snow. Use a  snow blower if there’s a lot of snow. If you’re skiing, do a few easy green runs to start. And for any activity, take frequent breaks.
  • Stop if you experience any symptoms. If you feel any pain in the chest or jaw, pressure in the upper body, nausea or shortness of breath, stop shoveling immediately and call 911. Ditto for stroke symptoms, such as weakness of the arms or legs, drooping of the face or difficulty speaking.