Walking in a winter wonderland — safely!

Photo by Ilum Isart

Brrrr! Time to break out the toques, gloves, snow shovels and ice scrapers.

With the first big dump of the winter season now fresh upon the ground, it is time for us all to head outside to work on our sidewalks and driveways. We all know the importance of keeping walkways clear of snow and ice. We all want to make walking outside as safe from slips and falls as possible both for ourselves and our neighbours.

As Canadians, we have a strange sense of pride in our frosty winter labour, but we also need to be aware of the potential health risks involved with snow shovelling.

A study published in 2017 in the Canadian Medical Association Journal confirmed that there is a correlation between heavy snowfalls and heart attacks that lead to death or hospitalization. In Quebec alone, over the course of 33 years, 65,000 people died from cardiac arrest and 128,000 were hospitalized during or after heavy snowfalls. Showing that we need to pay special consideration to how we are going about this necessary chore.

One of the reasons that snow shovelling is so risky, is that we do not tend to do any ‘pre-game’ warm-up. We head straight out into the cold, which increases your blood pressure and begin, for all intents and purposes, weightlifting. Depending on the amount of moisture in the snow and the amount of snow itself, we can be trying to lift and shift six to sixteen pounds with each shovelful. This extra exertion, especially if you are not physically fit or have a family history of heart disease, could create the kind of situation that ends in a heart attack.

‘An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,’ as the saying goes. So, what can you do to help prevent a heart attack during snow shovelling?

  1. If you have lots of snow to shovel, break it up into smaller parts and take breaks between each section. Warm up and stay hydrated during breaks
  2. It is recommended to shovel snow in the afternoon or evening rather than early morning
  3. Before you start, take five to ten minutes to stretch out your muscles and avoid shovelling on a full stomach
  4. Dress in thin, breathable layers to keep from overheating
  5. For those who are older or at risk for cardiac issues from other factors, consult with your doctor before you begin.

Finally, for those who are not able to shovel their own walkways, what happens? For many of our senior or mobility-challenged neighbours, the first major snowfall of the season can bring an end to their independence. More of our community elders are living in their homes for longer, but they need assistance to be able to do so. A wonderful way to help is by becoming a Snow Angel.

In Medicine Hat, the Veiner Centre Volunteer Department will match a kind-hearted individual with a senior from their neighbourhood.

In Calgary, please visit www.calgary.ca/volunteer/snow-angels to find out how you can help in your community.

By sharing your time and effort, you will be helping to prevent feelings of loneliness and isolation. Your labour of love will allow a lower-income senior to safely leave their home and continue to meet up with friends, go grocery shopping and get to medical appointments. It will also assist in the prevention of falls, which comprise 85 per cent of seniors’ injury-related hospitalizations.

Whether you are clearing your own walks or being an ‘Angel’ for someone else, please practice extra caution this winter season and put extra marshmallows in your cocoa.

You deserve it!