NDSU Extension Service - Ramsey County


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Where is That Snow Shovel?

Where is That Snow Shovel?

            We know it’s inevitable, that it has usually started by this time of the year and that it is NOT an easy job.  We’re talking about snow shoveling of course.  There is some good news associated with snow shoveling 15 minutes of snow shoveling counts as moderate physical activity and we all should aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity of some kind on most days of the week. 

            The bad news is that researchers have long reported an increase in the number of fatal heart attacks among snow shovelers after heavy snowfalls. This rise may be due to the sudden demand that shoveling places on an individual's heart. Snow shoveling may cause a quick increase in heart rate and blood pressure. One study determined that after only two minutes of shoveling, sedentary men’s' heart rates rose to levels higher than those normally recommended during aerobic exercise.

            A study performed by researchers at North Dakota State University determined that, based on heart rate, shoveling was a moderately intense activity for college-aged subjects most of the time but was vigorous activity during about one-third of their shoveling time of 14 minutes.

            Shoveling can be made more difficult by the weather. Cold air makes it harder to work and breathe, which adds some extra strain on the body. There also is the risk for hypothermia, a decrease in body temperature, if one is not dressed correctly for the weather conditions.  There are definitely some groups of people who should think twice about shoveling snow.  Those most at risk for a heart attack include:

  • Anyone who has already had a heart attack.
  • Individuals with a history of heart disease.
  • Those with high blood pressure or high cholesterol levels.
  • Smokers.

            Does this mean everyone needs to rush out and buy a snow blower?  Not necessarily To prevent injury when shoveling snow:

            - Don't shovel snow after smoking, or eating a heavy meal -- these activities all put an extra load on our cardiovascular system. 

            Like other forms on exercise, stretch before you leap.

            Dress in layers so clothing can be peeled off as the body becomes warm. Overheating puts extra strain on the heart. 

      Wear a scarf over nose and mouth to avoid breathing cold air. 

      Wear a hat to retain body heat. 

      Pace yourself taking frequent rest breaks. 

      Shovel safely by bending legs slightly at the knee, letting thigh muscles do most of the pushing and lifting work; this will reduce strain on the heart and back.

      Use a shovel with a small scoop and keep loads light and small.  Turn your entire body instead of twisting your back which can cause back strain.

      Stay hydrated! You are sweating more than you realize. Be sure to drink plenty of fluids before and after shoveling to replenish the fluids lost in the process.  Do not drink caffeinated products which can increase your heart rate.

      Know the Signs of a Heart Attack. Since the heart attack is the most common fatal complication of snow shoveling, it is important to know the systems. If any of these symptoms appear, stop immediately and seek medical attention. According to the American Heart Association, the signs of a heart attack can include chest pain, discomfort in other areas of the body and shortness of breath.


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