How Dangerous Is Snow Shoveling?

Health Articles
December 15, 2019

You might think that snow shoveling is good exercise. But is it also potentially dangerous? We’ve got the lowdown.

Hello from the snowy Midwest! As we speak, big, fluffy snowflakes are falling. You know what that means—someone’s gotta shovel. It’s a chore that almost everyone has to do.
But snow shoveling can be a potentially dangerous activity. According to the Washington Post, each year, 11,500 people are treated in U.S. emergency rooms for snow-shoveling-related activities—and on average, 100 of those injuries are fatal.
What causes the injuries? It’s a range, including fractures, soft tissue injuries and lacerations—but most fatalities are caused by cardiovascular events, such as heart attacks. Compared to other exercises you might do at the gym or outside, snow shoveling can be especially intense and rapid, and can lead to blood pressure spikes. And just as it is recommended that you consult a doctor before beginning a new exercise routine, if you’re unaccustomed to exercise, shoveling snow can put a lot of stress on your heart. An International Heart Journal study found that snow shoveling may lead to acute heart failure syndrome in patients at risk for developing heart failure—even if they’ve never had symptoms before. A study in Clinical Research in Cardiology found that males with a family history of premature cardiovascular disease were more likely to develop acute coronary syndromes related to snow shoveling.

What can you do? The Post suggests pushing, not lifting, the snow using an ergonomically designed shovel to reduce bending. The National Safety Council says you shouldn’t shovel after eating or while smoking. Stretch before you begin, take it slow, and lift with your legs, not your back. Finally, make sure you know the signs of a heart attack, including shortness of breath, chest discomfort, nausea or lightheadedness. Know that women may have different heart attack symptoms, too. Call 911 if you’re experiencing any symptoms—as the NSC says, every minute counts.
So while you’re enjoying scenic moments and sipping cocoa, remember that when it’s time to pick up a shovel, you should take it easy, or get some help if needed, so that you stay safe this winter.