Snow shoveling dangers

Sure, it’s a wintertime chore, but did you know shoveling snow can cause major health issues?

“Shoveling snow is the equivalent of running a marathon when it comes to the strain it puts on your heart,” says Baran Kilical, MD, cardiologist and electrophysiologist with Anne Arundel Medical Group Cardiology Specialists. “If you do not exercise regularly or have a history of heart disease, you should think twice about shoveling. It would be better to ask a family member, friend or neighbor for help.”

The cold weather can tighten your blood vessels, making it harder for blood to pass. Couple that with the sudden increase in blood pressure and heart rate from the physical exertion of shoveling, and a heart attack could be triggered.

Who is at most risk? People who have had a prior heart attack, have heart disease, smoke, are overweight or lead a sedentary lifestyle.

How can you make snow shoveling safer for your heart?

According to the American Heart Association, you should:

  • Take regular breaks. Frequently rest during shoveling so you don’t overstress your heart. Listen to your body and how it feels during those breaks.
  • Skip the heavy meal prior to or soon after shoveling. Large meals can put excess strain on your heart.
  • Push snow, instead of lift it. If you must lift the snow, do it in smaller amounts. It’s less stress on your heart to lift smaller amounts in more frequency, than to lift fewer, but heavier, loads.
  • Skip the alcoholic beverages before or immediately after shoveling. Alcohol may lead you to underestimate the extra strain your body is under.

Know the warning signs of a heart attack.

Also, it’s important to know the warning signs of a heart attack. Not all heart attacks look alike, but most show some or all of these signs:

  • Chest pain or pressure that lasts more than a few minutes or comes and goes
  • Pain or discomfort in the arms, back, jaw or stomach
  • Shortness of breath
  • A sudden cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness

Call 911 immediately if you begin to experience any of these symptoms. Getting to the hospital at the earliest sign of a heart attack is key to a successful outcome.

Shoveling not only puts stress on your heart, but also can damage your muscles and bones. Orthopedic Spine Surgeon Chad Patton, MD suggests treating shoveling as a workout. Take time to warm up and stretch before you begin.

“Bend with your legs, don’t bend at your waist,” says Dr. Patton. “Try to avoid tossing the snow over your shoulder. Maintain good posture and really use your legs to do a lot of the work.”

  Know your “heart age” and risk of heart disease by taking our quick, free heart profiler at

Baran Kilical, MD, is a board-certified cardiologist and cardiac electrophysiologist with AAMG Cardiology Specialists. To reach his office, call 410-897-0822.

Chad Patton, MD, is an orthopedic spine surgeon at AAMC Orthopedics, a practice of Anne Arundel Medical Center. To reach him, call 410-268-8862.

Originally published Jan. 22, 2016. Last updated Jan. 14, 2019.

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