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Shovel Safety

After a season with hardly any snowfall, winter plans to go out with a vengeance. While clearing driveways and sidewalks of snow can be good exercise, it also can be dangerous.Snow shoveling is a known trigger for heart attacks. It can raise your heart rate and blood pressure dramatically. And if you aren’t particularly active and then pick up a shovel and move hundreds of pounds of snow, the activity can put a big strain on your heart. A 2011 study conducted over two winters found that of 500 people who visited a hospital emergency room with heart problems, 7 percent began to experience symptoms while shoveling snow.

“Shoveling snow can be more strenuous than going full speed on the treadmill,” said Lourdes Sports Medicine specialist Thomas Plut, DO. “Moreover, shoveling can place excessive stress on spinal structures. These stresses can cause lower back strains.”

Here are tips for having a safe handle on shoveling:

– Dress warmly. The nose, ears, hands and feet need extra protection from the cold. The National Safety Council recommends wearing a turtleneck sweater, hat, scarf, face protection, mittens, wool socks and waterproof boots.
– Avoid caffeine or nicotine before or during shoveling. Both are stimulants that can increase your heart rate and cause blood vessels to constrict. Drink plenty of water instead to stay hydrated.
– Be kind to your heart. Cold weather is hard on the heart. Blood vessels narrow, raising blood pressure, making blood clots more likely. If you previously had a heart attack, have a history of heart disease, have high blood pressure or cholesterol, smoke or lead a sedentary lifestyle, speak to your doctor before shoveling. “If you are shoveling and experience chest pain, lightheadedness, shortness of breath or other unusual feeling, seek emergency treatment right away,” said Dr. Plut.
– Warm up. As with any exercise, it’s important to stretch your muscles before getting started. Cold, tight muscles are more likely to strain than warm, relaxed ones.
– Choose the right shovel. The shovel should have a curved handle, which enables you to keep a straighter back, and be an appropriate length. A plastic blade will generally be lighter than a metal one and easier on your back. “Also consider a smaller blade,” said Dr. Plut. “While you can’t shovel as much, you avoid the risk of trying to pick up a too-heavy pile.”
– Push the snow, don’t lift. Pushing is easier on the back. Remember, wet snow can be heavy: one full shovel can weigh up to 25 pounds.
– Lift with your legs, not your back. If you have to lift the snow, stand with your legs apart, knees bent and back straight. Lift with your legs. “Do not bend at the waist. Also, don’t twist your waist or toss snow over your shoulder. Instead, scoop a small amount and walk to where you want to dump it,” said Dr. Plut.
– Pace yourself. Take frequent breaks to catch your breath and stretch your back, arms and legs.
– Don’t work to the point of exhaustion. If you run out of breath, take a break. If you experience any type of pain, including tightness in your chest, stop immediately and seek assistance.
– Weigh your options. Consider buying a snow-blower or paying someone to clear the snow for you.

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