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Why shoveling snow is actually pretty dangerous

Meagan Morris is an entertainment and lifestyle journalist living in New York City. In addition to SheKnows, Morris contributes to many publications including The New York Times, Yahoo! News, PopEater, NBC New York and Spinner. Follow he...

More than 11,000 people seek emergency care each year after shoveling snow

Winter Storm Jonas — or Snowzilla, as some people call it — has dropped a ton of snow across the East Coast, leaving people trapped under a mountain of the white stuff.

So much snow makes shoveling inevitable, but that can be very dangerous for people who aren't prepared for such a physical activity — and it leads to at least 11,000 emergency room visits each year.

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The reason: People with heart disease, diabetes — or even those who haven't exercised in a while — end up overdoing it. A Pennsylvania teen, Briahna Gerloff, was found unresponsive after shoveling snow over the weekend and sadly died. Family members say she suffered from heart defects and advised her not to shovel snow, as she was also eight months pregnant.

However, even if you don't suffer from a heart condition, you're not in the clear.

"If you haven't been exercising and you haven't been exerting yourself, this is not the time to start," Lawrence Phillips, a cardiologist at NYU Langone Medical Center, told The Washington Post. "The amount of work that goes into shoveling snow is tremendous. ... People will underestimate the amount of work they are doing."

Blood vessels constrict when it's cold, decreasing the blood supply to your organs.

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"Physically, what happens when you get really cold is you have constriction of the blood vessels," he said. "It decreases the blood supply you're getting to your vital organs."

And most people don't realize something is wrong until it's too late, because shoveling is a "goal-oriented" activity, meaning people don't want to stop until they're finished. Older men are more likely than women to experience shoveling-related health problems, but it can happen to anyone not conditioned for such extreme conditions.

William Suddath, an interventional cardiologist at MedStar Washington Hospital Center, told The Post that it's like "beginning a weightlifting program in freezing temperatures without any preparation."

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Your best bet is to have a snow blower or something similar to help get rid of the snow. If that's not possible, make sure you only shovel for a short period — like 15 minutes — before taking a break. Stay hydrated and warm. It may make the task go a whole lot longer, but your health is more important than shoveling snow.

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