Don't let cold, snow endanger your health

Monday, December 27, 2010

Many of us resolve to get more exercise each year, but jumping right in to a heavy regimen isn't a good idea.

Neither is over-exerting ourselves just to clear the sidewalks and driveway.

Those of us in Southwest Nebraska and Northwest Kansas have missed the heavy precipitation that is hitting the northeastern United States, but it's only a matter of time before we get our share.

In fact, according to local weather observations, we could use a good snowstorm to stay ahead of the curve precipitation-wise. We are only .13 of an inch ahead of normal and without snow or rain by the end of the week, we will have fallen behind for the year.

There's a chance of snow later this week, but if it does amount to anything, we hope our readers will allow plenty of time to clear the snow -- or find someone else to move it if that's a wiser option.

The combination of colder temperatures and physical activity increases the workload on the heart, the American Heart Association reminds the public. People outdoors in cold weather should avoid sudden exertion, like lifting a navy shovel full of snow. Even walking through heavy, wet snow or drifts can strain a person's heart.

The AHA offers the following tips:

* Give yourself a break. Take frequent rest breaks during shoveling so you don't overstress your heart. Pay attention to how your body feels during those breaks.

* Don't eat a heavy meal prior or soon after shoveling. Eating a large meal can put an extra load on your heart.

* Use a small shovel or consider a snow thrower. The act of lifting heavy snow can raise blood pressure acutely during the lift. It is safer to lift smaller amounts more times, than to lug a few huge shovelfuls of snow. When possible, simply push the snow.

* Learn the heart attack warning signs and listen to your body, but remember this: Even if you're not sure it's a heart attack, have it checked out (tell a doctor about your symptoms). Minutes matter! Fast action can save lives -- maybe your own. Don't wait more than five minutes to call 9-1-1

* Don't drink alcoholic beverages before or immediately after shoveling. Alcohol may increase a person's sensation of warmth and may cause them to underestimate the extra strain their body is under in the cold.

* Consult a doctor. If you have a medical condition, don't exercise on a regular basis or are middle aged or older, meet with your doctor prior to exercising in cold weather.

* Be aware of the dangers of hypothermia. Heart failure causes most deaths in hypothermia. To prevent hypothermia, dress in layers of warm clothing, which traps air between layers forming a protective insulation. Wear a hat because much of your body's heat can be lost through your head.

* Learn CPR. Effective bystander CPR, provided immediately after sudden cardiac arrest, can double or triple a victim's chance of survival. Hands-only CPR makes it easier than ever to save a life. If an adult suddenly collapses, call 9-1-1 and begin pushing hard and fast in the middle of the victim's chest until help arrives.

And while a snowblower may be a good investment, make sure you keep it in good repair and know how to use it properly.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission notes that almost 600 finger amputations occurred due to improper operation of snow blowers or snow throwers. The majority of them happen when users attempt to clear snow from the discharge chute or debris from the augers with their hands.

Always stop the engine and use a long stick to unclog the wet snow and debris from the machine. While you're at it, remember to fuel it outdoors and not to leave it running in an enclosed space.

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