Dr. Edward Philbin, chief of cardiology at the Albany Medical Center in New York, recommended consulting a physician before engaging in vigorous physical activity such as snow shoveling if sedentary, especially if middle age or older, or otherwise at risk for heart disease.
"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 because most snow shovelers attack the job without a warm-up and generally overdo it," Philbin said in a statement.
Philbin suggests all snow shovelers:
-- Dress warmly, including gloves and a head covering, because hypothermia can increase cardiac stress.
-- Treat it like exercise by easing into the shoveling job to warm up, shoveling lighter loads and taking regular breaks.
-- Shovel with a buddy, or at least have someone check on you at regular intervals. Take a cellphone with you. Snow shovelers at any age can fall and have trouble getting up in cold and icy conditions.
-- Avoid alcohol, which increases the risk for hypothermia and may cloud judgment.
-- Be mindful of the signs of heart attack, and call 911 if they occur.
-- 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.
"Remember that this is not an Olympic event, and there are no gold medals," Philbin said.
Philbin said people who are physically fit or without heart disease generally have no problem with snow shoveling, and 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, he said.