The winter weather has finally settled in, and that will mean shoveling significant snow from driveways and sidewalks. Unfortunately for some, that can mean taking on more than their body can handle. Health care providers at Mayo Clinic Health System urge caution. Those who ignore signs of overdoing it could end up in the emergency department.

To be safe while clearing driveways and sidewalks, here are some tips for snow shoveling:

• Be heart-conscious.

“If you have a history of heart problems and are inactive, it’s best to speak with your health care provider before shoveling,” says Melanie Young, physician assistant, emergency department at Mayo Clinic Health System. “Also, don’t shovel while smoking, eating or after consuming caffeine. This may place extra stress on your heart.”

• Dress warm.

Wear several layers of clothing. They can always be removed if needed.

• Drink plenty of water.

Remaining hydrated during the winter is just as important as when it’s warmer.

• Warm up arm and leg muscles.

Stretch arms and legs before beginning to shovel. Muscle injuries are less likely to occur when they are warm.

• Take it slow.

Pace the work and take breaks if needed. Safety is more important than speed.

• Protect the back.

“Bend at the knees, not the back. Lift with your legs bent, stand with your feet hip-width apart for balance and keep the shovel close to your body,” adds Brian Langenhorst, registered occupational therapist and ergonomics specialist at Mayo Clinic Health System. “Also, don’t pick up too much snow at once if the snow is wet.”

• Shovel while snow is fresh.

Freshly fallen snow is lighter than snow that has started melting.

• Listen to your body.

This is the most important snow shoveling tip. If something feels abnormal or if you’re tired, it’s time to stop.

• Know who to call in an emergency.

Call 911 immediately in the event of an emergency.

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