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Prairie Fare: Pay Attention to Your Heart and Muscles During Winter Activities

An estimated 1,200 people in the U.S. die annually of coronary artery disease during and after major snowstorms.

By Julie Garden-Robinson, Nutrition Specialist NDSU Extension Service

“Come on, Mom. No one has been down the hill on this side!” my 12-year-old son yelled as he hopped on a sled and slid down the hill.

“I’m helping your sister. I’m getting closer!” I exclaimed.

The newly fallen snow was deep, up to my 4-year-old daughter’s knees. She kept getting her boots stuck in the snow, so I was attempting to pull the 40-pound preschooler up the hill on a toboggan.

My boots filled with snow, too, as did the toboggan. Then I discovered she was dragging her feet in the snow.

I thought my kids might be lugging me home on the toboggan if I had a heart attack.

Actually, heart attacks and snowstorms are no joke. The combination of cold air and exertion, especially during snow shoveling, stresses the heart.

An estimated 1,200 people in the U.S. die annually of coronary artery disease during and after major snowstorms, according to a study conducted in Michigan.

The American Heart Association also reports that cardiac deaths peak during Christmas and on New Year’s Day, mainly because people delay treatment. This holiday season, be aware of the warning signs of heart attacks, such as those below, and call 911 in case of an emergency:

  • Uncomfortable pressure or pain in the chest that lasts more than a few minutes
  • Pain spreading to the shoulders, neck and arms
  • Chest discomfort with lightheadedness, fainting, sweating, nausea or shortness of breath

With the first major snowfall behind us, many people have experienced the joy of snow. Protect your skin, heart, back and muscles as you clear away snow during the next few months.

  • Avoid caffeine or nicotine before beginning to shovel snow. These stimulants can increase your heart rate and cause your blood vessels to constrict.
  • Dress in several layers. Remove a layer if you get warm.
  • Warm up your muscles. Do some stretching and march in place. Warm muscles work more efficiently.
  • Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water.
  • Pick the right shovel. A shovel with a smaller blade will require you to lift less snow and put less strain on your back.
  • Lift with your legs, not your back. Stand with your feet about hip width for balance and keep the shovel close to your body. Avoid twisting movements.
  • Pace yourself. If you feel pain when shoveling, stop.

Here’s a recipe that will warm you after an outdoor workout, whether it’s sledding or shoveling. It’s from the Pennsylvania Nutrition Education Network.

Chicken Rice Soup

6 c. chicken broth

1 c. cooked chicken

1 c. uncooked rice

1 medium onion, chopped

1 3/4 c. fresh chopped vegetables (potatoes, carrots, celery and/or cabbage)

1/2 tsp. garlic powder

1/4 tsp. pepper

1/4 tsp. salt

1 Tbsp. dried parsley

Use leftover cooked chicken or cook enough chicken to make 1 cup of pieces. Place the cooked chicken in a large saucepan. Add the broth and uncooked rice. Cover the pan. Bring the broth and rice to a boil. Cover the pan and turn the heat to low. Stir and simmer for 15 minutes. Add the chopped onions, chopped vegetables and seasonings. Simmer for 10 to 15 minutes until the vegetables are tender.

Makes eight servings. Each serving has 160 calories, 2.5 grams (g) of fat and 24 g of carbohydrate.

(Julie Garden-Robinson is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and associate professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences.)

NDSU Agriculture Communication

Source:Julie Garden-Robinson, (701) 231-7187,
Editor:Rich Mattern, (701) 231-6136,
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