• Go easy on the shoveling. After a snow storm, shovel slowly and take frequent breaks. The act of lifting heavy snow can raise your blood pressure. Try using a small shovel to lighten the load and the strain on your heart. If you have had a heart attack in the past or other heart problems, you should avoid shoveling.
• Learn the signs of a heart attack. Chest or upper body pain, shortness of breath, cold sweat, nausea/vomiting and back or jaw pain may all be symptoms of a heart attack. When in doubt, call 911 and describe your symptoms.
• Avoid heavy meals and alcohol before or after shoveling. Eating a large meal can put added burden on your heart. Alcohol can stimulate the feeling of warmth and you may not be able to properly judge if the cold weather is impacting on your body temperature, putting you at risk for hypothermia.
Prevent hypothermia. Hypothermia is the leading contributor to death by heart failure. To prevent hypothermia, dress for the cold weather. Wear warm layers of quick-dry synthetic material and wear a hat to trap your body’s heat.
• Maintain a heart-healthy diet. During the winter, it’s easy to eat loads of heavy food to stay warm. Instead, wear warm layers and remember to control your portion size, eat fruits and vegetables, and select whole grains.
• Get a flu shot. The flu causes inflammation which can increase your chances of a heart attack. A flu shot is recommended for all ages, but especially for folks 65 and older, those at high risk for the flu, or people who suffer from cardiovascular disease.
Avoid Slips and Trips
• Stock up on salt. Clear snow and ice from your driveway and the sidewalks around your home or business. Use salt before and after a snow storm to protect yourself and others from slipping.
• Don’t rush. Take extra time and shorter steps in slippery conditions. Try pointing your toes slightly outward when you walk to maintain your balance.
• Stay warm. Before you go outside, wear layers to keep your muscles warm and relaxed. Tense muscles can make it more difficult to maintain your balance.
• Avoid carrying items. Keep hands empty so that arms are free to move for stabilization. If you need to carry something, use a backpack.
• Exercise caution getting in and out of a car. Put both feet on the ground and make sure your footing is stable before you stand up. Ask a friend or family member to help you balance if necessary.
Dr. David Slotwiner is chief of Cardiology and Dr. Jeffrey Rosen is chairman of the Department of Orthopedics and Rehabilitation at NewYork-Presbyterian Queens.