Albany Med Cardiologists Warn to Weigh Risks, Take Precautions Before Shoveling Snow

Adults should take simple precautions to guard against the unique stresses shoveling snow can have on the heart, according to Albany Med’s cardiologists.

“Snow shoveling may pose a slightly greater risk than other forms of vigorous physical activity because it is performed in a cold environment — which increases cardiac stress — and can easily be overdone,” said Edward Philbin, MD, Chair of the Department of Medicine and The George E. Pataki Chair of Cardiology at Albany Med.

Dr. Philbin offers the following tips to all people snow shoveling:

  • Consult a physician. If you are typically sedentary, especially if middle-aged or older, or are otherwise at risk for heart disease, you should consult a physician before taking on strenuous work such as shoveling snow.
  • Dress warmly. Hypothermia can increase cardiac stress. Wear gloves, layers and a head covering.
  • Take breaks. Ease into the shoveling job to warm up, shoveling lighter loads and taking regular breaks.
  • Ask for help. Avoid shoveling alone in case there is an emergency or have someone check on you at regular intervals.
  • Know the signs of a heart attack. Call 911 if you experience abnormal sweating, shortness of breath or chest pain.
  • Practice heart-healthy behaviors such as a healthy diet and regular exercise year-round to reduce the risk for heart attacks, including those that might occur while shoveling snow.

Dr. Philbin said people who are physically fit or without heart disease generally have no problem with snow shoveling, and that patients with stable heart problems who exercise regularly and follow their doctor’s treatment plans can shovel snow safely if they pace themselves and take regular breaks.