Get ready to conquer the driveway with these essential cold weather tips.
Colder weather, high wind and less sunshine may be ideal for winter enthusiasts, but they are not exactly “health friendly.”
Studies have shown a correlation between cold weather and health conditions like stroke and heart attack. Dr. Christine Ashour, family medicine physician with White Plains Hospital Physician Associates in Armonk and Yorktown Heights, explains how to get a leg up on winter:
Help your heart
Colder temperatures make heart vessels constrict, which may not be a problem for someone who is healthy, but for those middle-aged or older, with medical issues such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol, this could further increase the risk of cardiovascular events.
Strenuous physical activity further increases the workload on the heart, so when combined with colder temperatures, it could be a recipe for trouble. “Some people may not realize it, but snow shoveling can be more strenuous than exercising on a treadmill,” notes Dr. Ashour. Older people with known heart conditions, decreased mobility, or history of falls should avoid activities like shoveling snow entirely.
See a doctor immediately if you develop any chest discomfort or shortness of breath, discomfort in the arms, neck or jaw, lightheadedness and cold sweats, nausea or vomiting.
Protect your back
“Some light stretching of the upper body, including arms, neck and back, is a great way to prevent muscular injuries while shoveling,” says Dr. Ashour. “Make sure you are hydrated and avoid eating a heavy meal – and especially don’t drink alcohol right before or after hitting the driveway, since its blood-pressure raising effect increases the workload of the heart.”
Proper shoveling technique is key to avoiding back injuries:
- Push snow instead of lifting it (depending on moisture content, a shovelful of snow can weigh between 1 to 20 pounds) and try to work in intervals, not waiting until it stops snowing when the snow is at its heaviest.
- If you have to lift, bend knees and lift with the legs.
- Rather than twisting at your torso, point your feet in the direction you are throwing the snow.
Kids can help with this chore if parents show them these proper techniques, but only using a child-sized shovel – using an adult sized one can raise the risk of injury.
Turn on the heat
Another healthy step you can take against the cold is to make sure you are properly outfitted to prevent exposure to the elements. “Older adults and children lose body heat more quickly than people of other ages,” says Dr. Ashour. “Make sure the family is properly outfitted against hypothermia. In colder temperatures, your body begins to lose heat faster than it is produced, which could lead to lower body temperature.” In situations where you lose heat faster than it’s produced, a lower body temperature prevents the heart, nervous system and other organs from functioning normally, she adds.
Frostbite can occur even when you are wearing gloves, thick socks and ear and face protection. The skin becomes very cold and red, then numb, hard and pale. Take frequent breaks to warm up inside, especially if your skin is wet in addition to cold, and pay attention to warning signs such as numbness or tingling – signs your skin is freezing and may lead to frostbite.
The bottom line: Always consult with your doctor before you do anything strenuous like shoveling, especially if you don’t exercise regularly, have high cholesterol or are at risk for heart failure. Middle-aged adults should get regular health check-ups every year. Dress warmly, pay attention to your body, and seek medical help when you think something is wrong. A little foresight can have you skating through winter in good health.
Dr. Christine Ashour is a Family Medicine Physician. To make an appointment with Dr. Ashour at White Plains Hospital Medical & Wellness in Armonk, call (914) 849-7900, or in Yorktown Heights at 914-245-1111.