Shoveling snow may seem like an ordinary chore, but it can be more dangerous than most other tasks we do around the house or yard. In fact, shoveling snow leads to thousands of injuries and approximately 100 deaths in the U.S. each year. Many of those deaths are from heart attacks.
Dr. Mark Conroy, sports medicine and emergency medicine physician at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center told CBN News shoveling can put more strain on the heart than many people realize.
"Shoveling snow has been shown in a lot of studies that it can cause your heart rate to get as high as if you were running a race, running a 5K," he said.
Regardless of shoveling in past years, doctors say it's best to think twice this year if you have any history of heart problems, chest pains, or haven't been physically active recently.
"If you're someone who sits around most of the summer, stays inside in the air conditioning, and has taken the holidays and enjoyed them for all they're worth, and hasn't exercised and done much for a few months, probably going out in January and shoveling two feet of snow, or only six inches of snow that is heavy, is probably not a good idea," said Dr. Conroy.
If you decide to clear the white stuff, Dr. Conroy suggests working in shifts.
"If you can shovel early in the storm, in the middle of the storm, and also at the end of the storm, you're ultimately, while it's taking you more time, you're shoveling smaller amounts of snow each time you're doing it," he said.
Be on the lookout for the symptoms of a heart attack, which include chest pains, and other more subtle symptoms.
"Feeling short of breath, lightheadedness, feeling extremely nauseous or sweaty, really just not feeling yourself all the sudden," said Dr. Conroy.
The way a person shovels snow can sometimes minimize the risk of injury.
"Try to avoid lifting with your back. If you're going to lift, lift with your legs. Certainly pushing the snow is better than trying to throw it," he said, adding, "Push the snow down the middle of the driveway and then work on the sides separately. That can help avoid a lot of twisting, a lot of bending, which can lead to back problems."
Muscle strains to the lower back are common from shoveling snow. If this happens to you, doctors recommend putting ice on the area and taking an over-the-counter pain reliever like ibuprofen. Take it easy, but don't stay still for too long. That can cause painful muscle stiffness. Gently stretching the lower back can help, such as sitting on the floor and reaching for the toes. If the pain persists, contact your physician.
Many people consider snow blowers as a safer alternative to snow shoveling. However, those machines can carry their own risks.
"Certainly putting your hand too close to the blades," said Dr. Conroy, "And making sure that if it does break, that you have someone trained to fix it as opposed to trying to fix it yourself."