It's no exaggeration to say that shoveling snow can be a real workout.

Before taking on this chore, be prepared to treat shoveling like any other exercise:

  • Stretch and warm up first. Starting out cold (so to speak) can lead to muscle strain.
  • Drink lots of water. Despite the low temperatures, you're going to sweat. Hydrate yourself.
  • Pace yourself. Don't rush. And be sure to take breaks.
  • Don't lift too much weight. Fill your shovel only halfway. If possible, shovel snow when it's fresh and powdery, rather than later, when it might be icier and heavy.
  • Use proper form. When lifting your shovel, bend your knees -- NOT your back.
  • Stop immediately if you're hurting or exhausted.
  • If you've had heart problems in the past, check with your doctor first.

Studies have shown that healthy, inactive men experience the same blood pressure and heart rate increases during 10 minutes of shoveling as they do during high-intensity exercise on a treadmill. In some cases, a man may lift and throw about a ton of snow during those 10 minutes.

For people with a history of heart disease, of course, the risks of snow shoveling are even higher. Even automatic snow-throwers may not be protection enough; these mechanized tools still require the user to push snow, a task too strenuous for people with heart disease, especially in frigid temperatures. If you've ever had a heart attack -- or have a loved one with a history -- find someone else to do the shoveling.