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Shoveling Snow Safely

Snow Shoveling and Fatal Heart Attacks are Closely Related

With freezing temperatures come the possibility of heavy snowfall and the chore of snow removal. Snow shoveling is a vigorous activity that involves a high level of physical exertion that can often lead to physical injuries or heart attacks.

The cold temperatures experienced while shoveling snow causes constriction of the blood vessels and can also cause the blood to be more thick and prone to clotting. Because snow shoveling involves a lot of muscle straining without much movement, it also creates more strain on the heart.

The level of physical activity and environmental conditions experienced during snow shoveling causes the heart to pump faster and harder. Based on this information, it’s not a surprise that there is a strong link between snow shoveling and fatal heart attacks.

Risk Factors When Shoveling Snow

Shoveling snow is a particularly dangerous activity for those who are already at risk for heart attacks. If you have existing cardiovascular disease, hypertension or are obese, you are at an increased risk of experiencing a heart attack or suffering lower back injuries as a result of snow shoveling. Age is also considered a risk factor for those who are over 55 years of age and live a sedentary life.

If you are at risk or if your fitness level is poor, talk to your doctor before performing any form of exercise, including such an extraneous activity as snow shoveling.

It's also important to know the signs of a heart attack, including excessive fatigue, shortness of breath, chest discomfort and nausea. Signs of a heart attack can often be mistaken for fatigue as a result of the shoveling, so pay close attention to your physical symptoms.

Tips to Safely Shovel Snow

A person uses a shovel to remove snow

You can reduce the risk of injury or heart strain by practicing the following tips:

  • Do some general stretching before starting to shovel.
  • Dress warmly.
  • Take a lot of breaks.
  • Avoid completing all snow removal at once.
  • Consider using the bent snow shovel handle design to decrease stress on decreases the upper body, back, shoulders and neck.

For more information on snow shoveling safety, contact WVU Extension Service Safety and Health at 304-293-3096.

Author: Brandon Takacs, Former WVU Extension Specialist – Safety and Health
Last Reviewed: January 2019