Many people along the East Coast are grabbing their shovels and snow boots to dig out from a weekend of snow. As you dig out, make sure you shovel in a way that protects your heart.

Cold weather alone places extra strain on the heart because it constricts the arteries of the heart muscle. Combined with the strenuous activity of shoveling snow, you’ve got a recipe for putting your heart under great stress, said David Brill, MD, interventional cardiologist with Adventist HealthCare White Oak Medical Center and Adventist Medical Group.

“Shoveling like any vigorous activity has a 50 times higher risk of heart attack for inactive people compared to people who keep themselves fit,” he adds.

Tips for Shoveling Snow

If you are planning on shoveling snow, Dr. Brill says keep in mind there are many ways to make snow removal safer:

  • Take breaks while shoveling and pay attention to how your body feels during your breaks.
  • Treat shoveling like a workout, and avoid eating a large meal prior to shoveling (a small snack is ok).
  • Use a smaller shovel to avoid lifting heavy amounts of snow and push the snow out of the way instead of lifting it.
  • Dress warmly and drink plenty of water.
  • Consider using a snow blower if you can, or paying someone else to remove the snow.
  • Know the warning signs of a heart attack and what action to take if you or someone else is experiencing symptoms.

Symptoms of a Heart Attack

  • Chest discomfort:You may feel pressure, squeezing, burning, indigestion-type discomfort, fullness or pain in the chest that lasts for 15 minutes or longer. This discomfort may be associated with shortness of breath, sweating, nausea, weakness or feeling lightheaded.
  • Upper body discomfort: You may feel this in the arms, shoulders, back, neck, jaw or stomach that is persistent for 15 minutes or longer. This may be associated with shortness of breath, sweating, nausea, weakness or feeling lightheaded.
  • Shortness of breath: You may have an unusual shortness of breath that lasts for more than 15 minutes
  • Other signs: You may feel cold sweats, nausea, weakness, fainting and feeling lightheaded.

“If symptoms don’t go away with 5 to 10 minutes of rest, call 911,” adds Brill.

Adventist HeathCare Washington Adventist Hospital and Adventist HealthCare Shady Grove Medical Center are accredited Chest Pain Centers recognized for excellence in the treatment of heart attack by the Society of Cardiovascular Patient Care.


David Brill, MD

David Brill, MD

Interventional Cardiologist

Dr. Brill is an interventional cardiologist with Adventist Medical Group.

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