A worker clearing snow during winter storm Stella.
Photograph by Drew Angerer--Getty Images
By Sy Mukherjee
March 14, 2017

As winter storm Stella pounds the Northeast with more than two feet of snow in certain regions, it’s important to keep your health in mind when prepping for the aftermath.

Every year, about 100 Americans die from heart attacks related to shoveling snow in the winter, according to an analysis by the U.S. Nationwide Children’s Hospital. And the rates of heart attacks and back injuries both tend to spike in the winter time.

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So how do you stay safe when you may have to take part in the draining work of moving around pounds and pounds of snow (especially if you’re not used to physical activity?). The American Heart Association (AHA) and Harvard Medical School have a number of suggestions.

For one thing, you should consult a doctor before taking part in any strenuous activities. If your heart isn’t healthy enough for hard physical labor, hire someone else to do it.

But if you’re determined to get out there and take care of business yourself, make sure to that you avoid alcohol or large meals soon before or after shoveling snow, says the AHA. It’s also better to use a smaller shovel and minimize the amount of snow you’re moving around at any given time, since hauling heavy amounts of snow can put a strain on your heart (oh, and don’t forget to warm up and stretch your muscles beforehand to prevent injuries and get your blood pumping).

Proper winter wear (think layers) is also essential since heart failure is the primary cause of death stemming from cold-induced hypothermia. Make sure to protect your head and ears, too.

Other safety tips from Harvard include staying well-hydrated and taking frequent breaks. And in case you do begin feeling light-headed or otherwise uncomfortable, head inside immediately and take some rest. If you think you’re having a heart attack, contact emergency services as soon as possible.

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