Man shoveling snowA massive winter storm stretching along the East Coast is expected to dump more than two feet of snow in some areas into the weekend. As people dig out, there are some health hazards to keep in mind.

Snow shoveling may put some people at an increased risk of a heart attack. The physical exertion of shoveling paired with the cold temperatures increases the heart’s workload. For some people, walking through heavy or wet snow is enough to strain the heart.

The key signs of a potential heart attack are chest discomfort, discomfort in other areas of the upper body, shortness of breath, nausea or lightheadedness.

Because heart attacks can start mildly, people who expect to be shoveling or trudging through snow banks should always be cautious to protect their health.

Here are some tips for heart-safe snow shoveling:

  • Give yourself a break. Take frequent breaks to avoid overstressing your heart. Pay attention to how your body feels during those breaks.
  • Don’t eat a big meal before or soon after shoveling. Eating a large meal can put an extra load on your heart.
  • Use a small shovel or a snow thrower. The act of lifting heavy snow can raise blood pressure during the lift. It is safer to lift smaller amounts. When possible, simply push the snow.
  • Learn the heart attack warning signs and listen to your body. Even if you’re not sure it’s a heart attack, have it checked out. Carry your cellphone in your pocket and call 911 immediately if you experience any signs of a heart attack.
  • Do not drink alcohol before or immediately after shoveling. Alcohol can increase a person’s sensation of warmth and may cause you to underestimate the extra strain your body is under in the cold.
  • Consult a doctor ahead of time. Before you start shoveling, talk with your doctor if you have a medical condition, do not exercise regularly or are middle-aged or older.
  • Be aware of the dangers of hypothermia. Heart failure causes most deaths in hypothermia. To prevent hypothermia, dress in layers of warm clothing, which traps air between layers forming a protective insulation. Wear a hat because much of the body’s heat can be lost through the head.