As the dead of winter settles in, snow is definitely in the forecast—and so is the back-breaking, heart-straining task of snow removal. According to cardiologist Marvin Lipman, MD, FACP, shoveling snow is a heart attack risk for two reasons. “First, the low temperature tends to raise blood pressure,” he explains. “Second, any sudden exertion can increase the heart rate so that the circulation to the heart cannot keep up with the increased oxygen demands, resulting in chest pain, which if not attended to immediately, can result in a heart attack.”

But heart attack isn’t the only risk to consider. According to Matt Marucci, PT, MSPT, OCS, CSCS, Clinical Director of New Castle Physical Therapy & Personal Training, “Back injuries are the most common shoveling-related injury, followed closely by fractures.”

For those not ready to retire from shoveling duties just yet, we asked these local experts to share some of their best safety tips for snow removal this winter. So come on old man winter, take your best shot!

Tips for Protecting Your Heart

“Anyone with one or more cardiac risk factors, such as high blood pressure, elevated blood cholesterol levels, diabetes, overweight, or a family history of early-age heart attack and anyone who is not used to aerobic activity is at risk for having a heart attack during shoveling,” explains Dr. Lipman. But even if you are in good shape, Lipman provides these tips to keep your heart healthy during winter shoveling:

• Warm up by running in place for a few minutes.
• Try to shovel before the snow solidifies or turns icy.
• Pace yourself and periodically rest and hydrate yourself.
• Most importantly, if you think you or anyone near you is having a heart attack, give them a regular aspirin and immediately call 911.

Protecting Your Back From Injury

According to Marucci, back injuries are a common occurrence during shoveling because, “Shoveling places the spine in a flexed position which exerts stress on the vertebral discs and muscles surrounding the spine. The repetitive loads tax the discs and muscles, occasionally to the point of failure,” he explains. To protect your back from injury, Marucci suggests:

• Don’t stretch your back prior to shoveling. Most stretches for the lower back place the spine in a flexed position which is what you are trying to avoid while shoveling.
• Perform the job in small pieces to best minimize your risk of injury.
• When you are done shoveling, lay on your stomach for 3 minutes. This will give your muscles and discs a much-needed break.

Choosing The Best Equipment

cc license dreamstimeA final factor consideration in helping to avoid winter-weather dangers is to have the best tools on hand. Bart and Diana Tyler, owners of Kelloggs & Lawrence hardware store in Katonah, say there is an extensive variety of shovels to choose from so selecting the right one can go a long way in keeping you safe. Here are the Tylers’ tips for the best winter gear:
• Use an ergonomic shovel with a bend in the shovel and handle so you don’t have to fold your body in half to shovel.
• When dispersing rock salt, consider using a hand-held seed spreader which eliminates the need to lift a heavy salt bag and does a good job of distributing the salt.
• Use hand warmers and insulated gloves to protect your hands from the elements, and Yaktrax (placed over your boots or shoes), which creates traction to prevent slipping.

Marucci leaves us with these parting words of advice: if you can, stay inside. But if the snow removal responsibilities fall to you, then be cautious, remember these snow shoveling safety tips, and take good care!

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Ali Jackson-Jolley & Maryanne D’Amato are a writing duo based in Westchester County, NY, where they work as columnists and contributing writers to some of the top local and regional publications in Westchester.