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Date Updated: Monday, February 1, 2021

Smart Shoveling: Westchester Medical Center Offers Heart Healthy Tips for Clearing Snow as Winter Storm Approaches

People with heart conditions are at greater risk during strenuous winter activities

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VALHALLA, N.Y. (February 1, 2021) – The first significant winter storm of 2021 is expected to bring significant snow to many areas of our region. While this usually means lots of winter fun and outdoor activities for children and winter sports enthusiasts, shoveling heavy snow increases the risk of injury* or even worse, heart attacks, according to the American Heart Association.

Westchester Medical Center, the flagship of the Westchester Medical Center Health Network (WMCHealth), encourages all to shovel safely this winter and offers tips to help prevent injuries and illnesses during the upcoming snowfall.

“Shoveling can be a very dangerous activity for many people, especially those with certain heart conditions, if the right precautions aren't taken,” says Martin Cohen, MD, interventional cardiologist at Westchester Medical Center.  “Heavy, wet snow can make shoveling even more strenuous and put shovelers with a history of heart disease or high blood pressure at greater risk for suffering a heart attack due to the stress shoveling places on the heart.”

During the winter months, snow removal may be a necessity, but it is also a rigorous physical activity that should be approached carefully and it is important for either those with a heart condition or concerning cardiac symptoms to seek a heart health consult from a cardiology specialist before engaging in a strenuous activity, such as snow shoveling. Appointments with a WMCHealth Heart & Vascular Institute physician can be made by calling 866-WMC-HEART (866.962.4327).  A convenient telemedicine appointment may be an option for some. 

Heart-Healthy Shoveling Tips

“I always stress to patients that shoveling snow combines many of the activities that are taxing on the heart, including heavy lifting and upper body strength that they may not typically have,” Dr. Cohen says. “I recommend that people who need to shovel do so slowly and steadily, being careful not to expend more energy than they would on a normal day.”

Here are some tips from the American Heart Association, endorsed by Dr. Cohen, which can help alleviate this hassle and keep you and your heart safe so that you can enjoy the winter wonderland around you.   If you've ever had a heart attack, heart disease or high blood pressure, are middle-aged or older or do not exercise on a regular basis, avoid shoveling by yourself. Consider hiring a young person in the neighborhood to help you. Consult your doctor before attempting to shovel. 

  • Stretch out and warm up before shoveling and take frequent breaks to avoid overstressing your heart. Pay attention to how your body feels during these breaks.
  • Don’t eat a big meal before or immediately after shoveling, as this can put extra stress on your heart.
  • Use a small shovel or snow thrower.  The act of lifting heavy snow can raise blood pressure during the lift. It is safer to lift smaller amounts, or simply push the snow, if possible.
  • Learn the heart attack warning signs and listen to your body. Even if you’re not sure it’s a heart attack, get checked out. Carry your cell phone in your pocket and call 911 immediately.