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by Nancy Thomas, editor
For over 20 years, I would roll out one of my favorite public service and educational programs – Operation Winter Weather Warning. In addition to giving out messages about maintaining a healthy heart during this time, it would be a good educable moment about when – and how – to shovel snow.
Matt Espeut, owner of Providence Fit Body Boot Camp in Providence, taped a short, precise video on how to shovel snow – we like the very first tip he has for us – “get someone else to do it”. If you’re like us we no longer see the teens walking up and down the neighborhood looking for quick snow shoveling jobs to make some extra money. So – turn to your landscaping companies – or put that request out on social media for someone who can recommend a resource to you.
But! If you are in good shape, used to physical exercise, and want to take it slow and use snow shoveling as a workout – it isn’t all that bad. We worry about big things like attacks to our hearts or brains, but we also want to avoid straining our back or other orthopedic and muscular injuries. In pandemic times, this is not the time to have to go to rehab!
So – here’s some tips from “Coach Matt” – to you.
Operation Winter Weather Warning:
Deaths from heart attacks appear to be seasonal, peaking after Thanksgiving and extending through the holidays and winter season. Especially when the snow comes our way.
While there may be a variety of factors that play into the rise in deaths, but we know they are always in the coldest months, with sudden peaks when people are out clearing snow.
Higher risk individuals are people who have existing heart disease or who have had a stroke, high blood pressure, are overweight, smoke, have high cholesterol, lead a very sedentary lifestyle, or have a strong family history.
Several factors may influence the trend toward more deaths at this time of year —including an increase in respiratory infections in the winter, increased workload on the heart from activities such as shoveling of heavy, wet snow; environmental factors such as the use of fireplaces, which can deplete oxygen in the blood and place stress on the heart, and changes in atmospheric pressure, have been identified. Dietary influences are also implicated, as we increase our food, alcohol and salt consumption. For these individuals the physical stresses of the season may pose extra concern and medical experts urge individuals to take a few simple precautions to avoid becoming a victim of sudden cardiac death:
Avoid sudden exertion, such as lifting a heavy shovel of snow — even walking through heavy wet snow or snow drifts can strain the heart.
If the snow must be shoveled, try to identify a young person in the neighborhood who is physically fit to help out – before the snow falls. You can also go to the handy neighborhood app – Next Door – and ask for help from neighbors you know who may share their resource.
It’s not safer for a woman to shovel, particularly after menopause when risks for women are comparable to those of men. Some women will take over for spouses or parents who may have high blood pressure or heart disease. These warnings are for you, too, ladies – particularly later in life.
For those at high risk, ask your physician how much physical exertion is acceptable for you. Regular exercise can – and often is – a good thing. But rushing out the door to suddenly clear all that snow – without being conditioned for activities like that – can be a danger.
Avoid hypothermia at very cold times, typified by a drop in body temperature to a subnormal level. Signs are lack of coordination, mental confusion, slowed reactions, shivering and sleepiness.
Don’t drink alcoholic beverages before going outside. This will draw heat away from the body’s vital organs. But do stay hydrated with plenty of water.
Wear layers of clothing to trap the air as protective insulation — and don’t forget to wear a hat or head scarf, gloves and warm socks, to maintain body heat.
Know the warning signs of heart attack:
Uncomfortable pressure, fullness, squeezing or pain in the center of the chest lasting more than a few minutes.
Pain spreading to the shoulders, neck or arms.
Chest discomfort with lightheadedness, fainting, sweating, nausea or shortness of breath.
Know the warning signs of stroke
Sudden weakness or numbness of the face, arm or leg on one side of the body.
Sudden dimness or loss of vision, particularly in one eye.
Sudden loss of speech, or trouble talking or understanding speech.
Sudden severe headaches with no known or apparent cause.
Sudden, unexplained dizziness, unsteadiness or sudden falls, especially along with any of the previous symptoms.
In addition, we recommend learning CPR – it’s easier than ever to learn. Check in with your local hospital or the RI Department of Health or American Red Cross. Learn CPR-Learn It for Someone You Love.