How to avoid shoveling a path to the ER

Posted Feb. 08, 2013, at 1:37 p.m.
Last modified Feb. 08, 2013, at 5:58 p.m.

Heavy snow can wreak as much havoc on the body as it does on the roads for those shoveling the white stuff.

The exertion from shoveling snow has been found to boost the risk of heart attack, according to a 2011 study published in the journal Clinical Research in Cardiology. Among 500 patients who arrived at an Ontario hospital with heart problems over two winter seasons, seven percent were shoveling when their symptoms began. Researchers said the actual number could have been much higher, since many patients may not have mentioned that they were shoveling when they became ill.

About two-thirds of the patients with heart problems were men — with a mean age of 66 — and all were highly likely to have a family history of premature cardiovascular disease.

With a potentially historic winter storm set to slam New England on Friday, the Snow and Ice Management Association, a national nonprofit representing snow removal professionals, suggested tips for safe snow shoveling.

“While heart attacks may be the most serious consequence of shoveling snow, there are other even more common health risks including dehydration, back injuries, pulled muscles, broken bones and frostbite,” Martin Tirado, the organization’s executive director, said in a news release. “But the good news is there are ways to safely shovel snow.”

Here are the association’s safe snow shoveling tips:

Stay on top of the snow. When there’s heavy snow, stay ahead of the storm. To prevent snow and ice from adhering to the sidewalk or street, clear the snow every few inches instead of waiting for it to stop falling before you head outdoors.

Wear breathable layers. Wear layers of loose clothing so you can peel a layer off if you get hot. Avoid wearing heavy wools, manmade materials or other materials that don’t allow perspiration to evaporate. Better choices are cotton and silk.

Watch your feet. Wear quality outdoor winter wear such as waterproof boots with good traction. Good traction is critical to ensuring that you don’t slip and fall.

Take a few minutes to stretch. Shoveling snow is a workout, so stretch to warm up your muscles, particularly because of the cold weather. Stretching before you start shoveling will help prevent injury and fatigue.

Push, don’t lift. If you push snow to the side rather than trying to lift it, you exert less energy, placing less stress on your body.

Drink up. Take frequent breaks and stay hydrated. Drink water as if you were enduring a tough workout at the gym or running five miles.

Don’t play in traffic. Sometimes people get so focused on the task at hand that they don’t pay attention to their surroundings. When shoveling snow near streets, watch for traffic since vehicles may not have good traction in the snow and ice.

Call and text. Not while shoveling snow, but have your cellphone on you so you can make a call in the event of an emergency.

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