Keeping yourself safe this winter


By Roberta Tolan

SUN Columnist

Here’s the scoop on snow shoveling.

This is a first in a series of articles on keeping ourselves, family, animals and homes safe during the cold winter months.

First, how to cope with that first big snowstorm.

We’re well into the time of year when our first big snow storm can come any day, so find those snow shovels and get that snowblower tuned up for the months ahead. If you are the do-it-yourself type and looking forward to doing the shoveling, there is good news. Only 15 minutes of snow shoveling counts as moderate physical activity, according to the 1996 Surgeon General’s Report on Physical Activity and Health. That is half the daily recommendation for physical activity.

The bad news is that the number of fatal heart attacks among snow shovelers increases after a heavy snowfall. Snow shoveling increases heart rate and blood pressure. In fact, one study showed that after only a couple of minutes of shoveling, sedentary men’s heart rates rose to levels higher than those normally recommended during aerobic exercise. Some people should think twice before venturing outside with a shovel. People most at risk of heart attacks are those who already have had a heart attack, those with a history of heart disease, those with high blood pressure or high cholesterol levels and those who smoke.

If you’ve been sedentary, it’s a good idea to consult a healthcare provider before taking off to shovel that driveway. For those in the “at risk” group, it might be time to pass the shovel to someone else or hire a service.

Shoveling can also lead to back injuries, so consider the rules of body mechanics. Warm up your muscles by walking around a few minutes. Stand with your feet about hip width for balance and keep the shovel close to your body. Bend from the knees (not the back) and tighten your stomach muscles as you lift the snow. Avoid twisting movements. If you need to move the snow to one side, reposition your feet to face the direction the snow will be going. Listen to your body and stop if you feel pain.

Drinking a hot cup of coffee may seem like a wise thing to do before venturing into the cold, but it’s not suggested. Caffeine is a stimulant, which increases heart rate and causes blood vessels to constrict. This places stress on the heart, especially when followed by snow shoveling.

Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated as dehydration is as great a winter issue as a summer one. Dress in layers, too. That way you can peel off a layer without chilling yourself as you work on the last bit of sidewalk.

Prevention of hypothermia

The best way to prevent hypothermia is to stay warm and dry with the proper combination of preparation, clothing, food and exercise to maintain good circulation. Persons trapped in a blizzard should sleep with caution. You have a lower metabolic rate when you sleep so you produce less body heat. Some sleep is necessary, but do not remain idle or sleep for long periods of time. Stretch and exercise periodically to maintain circulation. Eating before sleeping will help to maintain body heat, but avoid medications that may induce sleep.

Know the symptoms

Hypothermia is a condition where the body temperature, or core temperature, is lowered too far. The blood has cooled and the oxygen carried to the brain has been reduced, dulling the senses. The victim feels fatigued, delirious, and loses the dexterity in his or her arms and legs. When the body’s core temperature continues to drop and nears 85 degrees F, the victim will slip into unconsciousness. Treatment must be started immediately to prevent failure of the heart and lungs and possibly death.

Symptoms of hypothermia are relatively easy to identify and treat if done promptly:

1. Uncontrollable shivering is one of the most obvious early signs of hypothermia.

2. As the situation continues to worsen, the victim becomes clumsy, loses dexterity of the limbs, loses reasoning and memory and goes into muscular rigidity.

3. The symptoms are very difficult or impossible to recognize on you because of delirium and loss of the ability to think clearly.

4. The loss of body heat must be reversed quickly.

Treatment of hypothermia

1. Prevent further heat loss. Get the victim out of wet or cold clothes. Put the unclothed victim in a sleeping bag with one or two other unclothed persons. Their body heat will transfer quickly to the victim raising their body temperature.

2. You must add heat to the body in most cases of hypothermia. If the victim is conscious and able, feed warm drinks, but no alcoholic beverages. Place a scarf over the victim’s mouth to warm the inhaled air.

3. Treat the victim very gently. Do not massage or rub down the victim as it may cause tissue damage.

4. Minimize the victim’s movement to conserve his or her energy reserves for body heat.

This information was taken from a series of articles written by Julie Garden-Robinson, Food and Nutrition Specialist, North Dakota State University Extension Service.

Colorado State University Extension is your local university community connection for research-based information about natural resource management; living well through raising kids, eating right and spending smart; gardening and commercial horticulture; the latest agricultural production technologies and community development. Extension 4-H and youth development programs reach more than 100,000 young people annually.

Colorado State University, U.S. Department of Agriculture and Colorado counties cooperating. CSU Extension programs are available to all without discrimination. No endorsement of products mentioned is intended nor is criticism implied of products not mentioned.


Nov. 14 — Mountain View Homemakers meeting, noon.

Nov. 15 — Wolf Creek Wonders 4-H Club meeting, 2 p.m.

Nov. 19 — CSU Extension Advisory Board meeting, noon.

Nov. 19 — 4-H Council meeting, 6:30 p.m.

Nov. 20 — Mountain High Garden Club meeting, 10 a.m.

Nov. 20 — Western Heritage meeting, 6 p.m.