Just as Mother Nature is teasing us into thinking that spring is just around the corner with a few tantalizing 50 degree days, she plunges us back into freezing temperatures. Then adds insult to injury with a dump of heavy snow.

While most people won’t have a problem shoveling snow, it can put some people at risk of heart attack or stroke. Sudden exertion, such as moving heavy snow after being sedentary, after a heavy meal, or in intense cold can put a big strain on your heart. Individuals over the age of 50 or who are relatively inactive should be particularly careful.

What does cold have to do with it? Even for healthy people, cold weather can increase your heart rate and blood pressure. It can also constrict your arteries, which decreases your blood supply.

Here’s what to know about safely shoveling snow.  The National Safety Council recommends the following tips to shovel safely:

  • Shovel only fresh, powdery snow; it’s lighter
  • Push the snow out of the way rather than lifting it
  • If you do lift shovelfuls of snow, use a small shovel or only partially fill the shovel
  • Lift with your legs, not your back
  • Work slowly, taking frequent breaks.

Protect yourself. Do not shovel after a big meal or while smoking, as well as:

  • Don’t pick up that shovel without a doctor’s permission if you have a history of stroke or heart disease
  • Stretch your shoulders, arms and legs before you begin
  • Stay hydrated, especially if you are sweating
  • Do not work to the point of exhaustion.

Who do you know that might want to help you shovel? Your neighbor’s teenager might be thrilled to help you – especially if it means a little extra money in his or her pocket. After all, a clear driveway is not worth your life.