When the driveway and walkways are coated in a thick blanket of snow, it is time to get a shovel out for what some consider to be a dreaded chore. But before you tackle the first snowfall of the season, take some time to read these safety snow shovelling tips to help avoid any potential injuries.
Snow shovelling can lead to several health risks for many people, from back injuries to heart attacks. The mix of cold temperatures and physical exertion increases the workload on the heart, which may increase the risk of a heart attack for some. According to the American Heart Association, even walking through heavy, wet snow can place strain on your heart.
In addition, a study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal shows a link between heavy snowstorms and heart attacks that either result in death or hospitalization, especially in men. Between 1981 and 2014, researchers in Quebec found 65,000 people died from heart attacks and 128,000 were hospitalized during or after heavy snowfalls.
Experts advise people to follow certain steps when it comes to shovelling snow and to seek help when they need it.
The following tips can also help keep you safer when you set out to shovel:
- Warm-up. Warm your muscles before heading out to shovel by doing some light movements, such as bending side to side or walking in place.
- Push rather than lift. Pushing the snow with the shovel instead of lifting can help reduce the strain on your body. When lifting snow, bend your knees and use your legs when possible.
- Choose your shovel wisely. Ergonomically-designed shovels can help reduce the amount of bending you have to do.
- Lighten your load. Consider using a lighter-weight plastic shovel instead of a metal one to help decrease the weight being lifted.
- Hit the pause button. Pace yourself and be sure to take frequent breaks. Consider taking a break after 20 to 30 minutes of shovelling, especially when the snow is wet.
- Consider multiple trips. Consider shovelling periodically throughout the storm to avoid having to move large amounts of snow at once.
- Keep up with the snowfall. Try to shovel snow shortly after it falls, when it is lighter and fluffier. The longer snow stays on the ground, the wetter it can become. Wet snow is heavier and harder to move.
- Wear layers. Dress in layers and remove them as you get warm to help maintain a comfortable body temperature.
- Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated while shovelling.
Can shovelling snow cause a heart attack?
Although the act of shovelling snow isn’t necessarily bad for your health, a combination of factors can increase your risk of a heart attack.
“With snow shovelling, you go from nothing to everything in a matter of seconds and that challenges your cardiovascular system much more than if you do aerobic exercise for example walking or going to the gym,” says Dr. Adrian Baranchuk, a cardiologist with the Canadian Cardiovascular Society.
The overexertion of shovelling, especially if you’re not physically fit and used to exercise, combined with cold temperatures which increase your blood pressure can put a strain on your heart.
Who is the most at-risk of a heart attack while shovelling snow?
According to the Cleveland Clinic people with a history of heart disease and those who are over the age of 55 are at an increased risk of heart attacks while shovelling snow.
“In our research, we found if you have a family history of early cardiovascular disease your risk of presenting a snow shovelling heart attack event increases four times,” Baranchuk explains in an interview with Yahoo Canada.
Research also shows men have suffered from more heart attacks than women during or after shovelling the snow, but Baranchuk says it may be because men are more commonly the ones doing that type of work.
If any of these apply to you, you should refrain from shovelling snow all together, asking for help or hiring a younger neighbour to help with snow removal can help minimize your risk.
Symptoms of heart attacks you should look out for
The next time you pick up that shovel, make sure to play it safe and watch out for any signs that your heart may be in distress.
Aside from the most known common signs like chest pain, shortness of breath and pain radiating towards your neck and left arm, people can also experience lightheadedness, stomach pain, cold sweats, nausea or vomiting when experiencing a heart attack. If you experience any of these symptoms, stop what you’re doing and call 911 to seek medical attention immediately.
According to Baranchuk, the first two hours after a heart attack are critical. However, many people delay getting help, which greatly affects the level of treatment doctors can provide.
“The impact in the short and long term, the consequences of that are dramatically associated with the time elapsed since the initiation of the symptoms to our ability to open the artery,” he explains. “If the patient doesn’t call early enough then all those minutes account for our inability to reinstitute the flow in the vessel and to keep the patient normalized.”
Snow and Ice Removal Requirements
Snow and ice not only pose a potential risk to you but also others. As a property owner, you are responsible for making a reasonable effort to keep public walking areas around your property clear of snow and ice. Pre-treating your walkways and other paved surfaces with an anti-icing product can help make snow and ice removal easier.
Consider stocking up on ice melt in advance, as it sometimes sells out during long winters. You can store unused ice melt in an airtight container, out of reach from children and pets. Be aware that rock salt can damage brick, stone, asphalt and concrete walkways.
Be sure to check your local codes and ordinances regarding snow and ice removal requirements.
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