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Snow safety tips

Like everyone else in the D.C. area, Pam Peeke is focused on riding out Snowmaggedon. Speaking to me by cell phone from her frigid, power-lacking home in Bethesda, Peeke, a health and fitness expert, author of Fit to Live and host of Discovery health TV's series Could You Survive?, was headed out to a hotel, but before she went she shared some tips for staying safe and healthy in these cold, snowy conditions.

  • In the house: Bundle up, wear layer upon layer, and don't forget gloves and extra socks. Do not set up an outdoor grill inside; area hospitals are already treating people for carbon monoxide poisoning, which can quickly become deadly. If you're using a fireplace, make sure the flue is fully open and the screen fully closed -- and make sure someone is tending the fire at all times. Ditto for candles; if you're using them for light or to warm your hands, be sure to keep an eye on them always.
  • If you need to get out: Unless you are quite physically fit, leave the shoveling to others. Keep an eye out for young, healthy people who might be willing to shovel your driveway and sidewalk. Even if you are fit, don't take the snow lightly. Try to wait until the sun is out and high in the sky so it's a bit warmer when you work. Bend from the knees, not your back, to prevent back injury, and be sure not to overload your shovel; take it slow and easy. Avoid getting wet, especially if you don't have a way to heat up when you get back indoors. Being damp increases your odds of dangerous hypothermia.

  • Watch your step: If all you have are what Peeke calls "silly boots" -- those that lack adequate tread and aren't waterproof -- stay inside. To avoid slipping, make yourself walk very slowly, and whenever possible step on snow, not shiny patches of ice. Most of all, don't fool yourself: this snow is serious business, Peeke says, and "some people are fooled into thinking they can do things they can't." This isn't the time to embark on a long walk for the sake of exercise, she says.

  • Mind your heart: The cold causes blood vessels and bronchial tubes to constrict, placing extra stress on your heart, making you more vulnerable to angina (chest pain caused by the coronary arteries' inability to deliver appropriate oxygen to your muscles -- including your heart muscle). Worse yet: Myocardial infarction may occur if the heart is damaged and unable to pump at full volume. The severe pain and shortness of breath you'll experience signal an emergency. It's simply not worth taking a risk, Peeke says, and until tertiary roads are cleared, ambulances and other emergency vehicles might have trouble getting to you.

As for all that food languishing in your fridge and freezer, it needn't go to waste. "Stick stuff in giant garbage bags and stick it in the snow," she suggests. The temperature's low enough to keep frozen food frozen. "Don't leave it in the fridge to rot!"

Do you have any snow-safety tips to share with fellow readers? Please post them in the Comments section. And please be careful out there (and in there, too)!

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By Jennifer LaRue Huget  |  February 7, 2010; 4:11 PM ET
Categories:  Cardiovascular Health  
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I waded around the perimeter of my house to check that downspouts were clear and to clear snow from my back doors. The last thing I want is for my alternative exits to be difficult to navigate because of exterior snow.

I also checked that the exhaust from my gas furnace, that exits my basement was clear of snow.

Posted by: RedBird27 | February 7, 2010 7:13 PM | Report abuse

I love the phrase "unless you are quite physically fit, leave the shoveling to others." And what do you do if others aren't around? Sometimes your neighbors are just as snowed in as you and can't help.

It took us (2 over-50 adults and 2 teen-ish kids) a total of about 10 hours to clear our driveway and our cars - we spread this over several days, as we were sure our street would not get plowed out right away. This is not really something we could have paid the neighbor kids to do (they were busy with their own place).

What do you do if you must shovel and are not "quite physically fit?" That describes me - I was in a cast (foot surgery) until a few weeks ago, so am certainly not fit - I haven't been able to run for months and still limp.

The "old lady" shuffle works best. Pick up a small layer from the top. Hold it level with your arms by your hips (don't lock the elbows) and shuffle over to where you are going to deposit the snow. Rest one edge of the shovel on the ground (or top layer of snow, as the case may be) and tip sideways. Don't pitch the snow or do fancy twists over your shoulder. Return to your spot and do the next layer until you hit ground (bend those knees as you get lower). Move on and repeat.

It's slow but you can keep it up for hours and you won't be as sore. It's a lot like the difference between hiking and sprinting - with the former, if you set a reasonable pace, you can do it almost forever.

This method has the advantage of keeping your feet active, so they won't freeze as easily. I can't get in boots yet, so was doing this in my old running shoes. My feet got a bit cold, but not numb.

And we get to do it all over again on Tuesday!

Posted by: drmary | February 8, 2010 5:51 PM | Report abuse

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