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Don't Make Snow Shoveling a Marathon Event

American Heart Association warns risk of a heart attack, health problems during snow shoveling and harsh weather conditions can increase, particularly for at-risk individuals.

The following news release was issued by the American Heart Association:

The day after a snow storm usually means grabbing a shovel or pulling out the snow blower for many Chicago area residents. The American Heart Association warns that for most people, shoveling snow may not lead to health problems, however, the risk of a heart attack during snow shoveling can increase for others. Some studies even suggest harsh winter weather may increase a person's risk of heart attack due to overexertion.

The cold winter months can be very hard on people with potential and existing heart problems.  When you’re outdoors in the cold weather, be aware that your heart is working harder.  If you’re not accustomed to physical activity you should avoid sudden exertion, like lifting a heavy shovel full of snow. Even walking through heavy, wet snow or snow drifts can strain a person's heart. To help make snow removal safer, the American Heart Association suggests:

  • Consult a doctor. If you have a medical condition or don’t exercise on a regular basis, schedule a meeting with your doctor prior to the first anticipated snowfall.
  • Take frequent breaks during shoveling so you don’t overstress your heart.
  • Don’t eat a heavy meal prior or soon after shoveling since it can place an extra load on your heart.
  • Don’t drink alcoholic beverages before or immediately after shoveling. Alcohol may increase a person’s sensation of warmth and may cause them to underestimate the extra strain their body is under in the cold.
  • Be aware of the dangers of hypothermia. Heart failure causes most deaths in hypothermia. Wear a hat and dress in layers of warm clothing, which traps air between layers forming a protective insulation.
  • Use a small shovel or consider a snow thrower. Lifting heavy snow can raise blood pressure acutely. It is safer to lift smaller amounts more times, than to lug a few huge shovelfuls of snow. When possible, simply push the snow.
  • Listen to your body. If you feel the warning signs for heart attack, stop what you are doing immediately and call 9-1-1.
The warning signs of a heart attack include but are not limited to:
  • Uncomfortable pressure, fullness, squeezing or pain in the center of the chest that lasts for more than a few minutes, or goes away and comes back.
  • Pain spreading to the shoulders, neck and arms.
  • Chest discomfort with lightheadness, fainting, sweating, nausea or shortness of breath.
Some additional winter weather tips to stay healthy and safe during the cold weather include:
  • Stay alert when shoveling in the street. With many urban residents parking their vehicles in the street rather than a driveway it is imperative to stay vigilant when shoveling out your car. Keep an eye out for oncoming traffic and slippery road conditions as you clear snow out of the street.
  • Try to walk on salted sidewalks. Shoveled sidewalks can still be quite slippery and don’t give much traction to shoes, so if possible try and pick a route or side of street with shoveled andsalted sidewalks.
  • Exercise outside safely. During the winter the sun sets much earlier so it is important to choose warm and safe clothing while exercising outside. Make sure the wear bright or reflective clothing and avoid running or walking in the streets. Bundle up with extra layers and choose a shoe with a rubber sole to avoid slipping on ice.
For more information, call the American Heart Association at 800-968-1040or visit www.americanheart.org.

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