Winter Weather and Snow Shoveling Can Pose Risks

By Buffalo Medical Group | December 8 2021 | Uncategorized

By Benjamin Zwierzchowski M.D.

Buffalo Medical Group

With falling temperatures during winter months, the risk for heart attacks rises for people with heart conditions and those engaging in rigorous physical activity.

When temperatures drop, blood vessels narrow to prevent our bodies from losing heat. This is a natural response that can put people with heart conditions and those involved in strenuous activity like shoveling snow, at greater risk of having a heart attack.

Many people are unaware of the dangers that low temperatures and winter storms can pose to their hearts. Shoveling snow is one of the most exhausting and risky activities people do in the winter, especially those who don’t regularly exercise, since it can raise blood pressure and dramatically increase people’s risk for a heart attack.

Back Injuries

Shoveling heavy snow is equivalent to repetitive heavy lifting. Incorrect technique can result in unnecessary lower back stress and can cause painful, long-lasting injuries. If possible, try to push snow aside rather than lifting and throwing it. Proper lifting procedures should also be applied to snow shoveling. Pull the loaded shovel blade toward you before lifting and lift with your legs. Toss the snow aside from a standing position, not while bent over. Straight-handled shovels may be inexpensive, but newer ergonomic designs put less stress on the lower back.


Always be aware of your surroundings. If you’re removing snow from around a car parked on a city street, oncoming drivers may not see you as quickly as they would in good conditions. Remember that a driver’s view may be partly obscured, their ability to stop and your retreat could be slowed by the weather. Reacting too slowly can put you in a dangerous position.


If you are not accustomed to heavy manual labor, pace yourself carefully. If your heart is pounding and you are out of breath that’s a signal you’re working too hard. Slow down or take frequent warm up breaks indoors. If you are working good pace you should be able to have a conversation while you work.  If you’re gasping so hard that you can’t talk, you could be putting your cardiac system into a highly stressed condition that can be dangerous if underlying health problems exist. Cold weather asthma is a common reaction to these factors and, can quickly add to existing stresses.

To protect your health this winter consider the following safety tips:

  • Stretch and warm up your muscles with light activity before engaging in rigorous physical activity, such as shoveling.
  • Stay warm. Wear a scarf over your mouth and nose to warm the air you breathe. Dress in layers and cover up with a windproof and waterproof outer shell.
  • Instead of lifting a shovel, push it to remove snow.
  • Pace yourself and take breaks while you are shoveling snow.
  • Enlist a family member or friend to help you shovel. This way you will have less work to do and will not be alone in case of an emergency.

Anyone who is overweight, older than 50 or has suffered a heart attack should talk to their doctor before shoveling snow or starting a new exercise program.

Benjamin Zwierzchowski M.D., is accepting new patients at Buffalo Medical Group, 325 Essjay Road in Williamsville. Call 716.656.4459 to make an appointment.