Shoveling snow can be an exhausting task, and one that can carry some significant health risks. The intense exertion of shoveling, combined with cold temperatures, can send your heart rate and blood pressure soaring.

That's why the American College of Emergency Physicians advises against shoveling snow if you have a history of heart attacks.

"If you're over 50 and haven't been exercising regularly, be extra wary," says Marvin M. Lipman, M.D., Consumer Reports' chief medical adviser. "'Silent' coronary disease can become not-so-silent with all that extra effort."

Moreover, the heavy lifting that's often needed to move snow off of your driveway and front walk can lead to pulled muscles and back injuries.

Here's how to stay safe while you're hauling that snow away:

6 Essential Shoveling Moves

Warm Up

  • Cold muscles are tight and more vulnerable to strains, and exerting yourself in chilly air can not only cause blood pressure to rise sharply but also trigger asthma attacks in those with the condition.
  • To head off these problems, the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons recommends that you perform 10 minutes of light exercise—such as marching in place, rolling your shoulders, swinging your arms, and flexing your knees—before you grab your shovel.

Stay Hydrated

  • You might feel less thirsty in cold weather than hot, but it's still easy to become dehydrated, which can impair your body's ability to regulate heat. As a general rule, it's wise to drink a glass of water before shoveling snow and more if you feel thirsty while shoveling.

Dress for the Weather

  • Layers work best because you can add or remove them as needed to maintain a comfortable body temperature.
  • Start with underwear and socks made of a synthetic fabric that wicks moisture away from the skin.
  • Avoid cotton, which retains sweat and has little insulating power.
  • In addition, wear a hat or other head covering, as well as mittens or gloves and thick, warm socks.
  • Opt for shoes or boots with slip-resistant soles, and watch for icy patches.

Use the Right Shovel

  • Consumer Reports recommends a shovel with a D-shaped handle because it's much easier to control than other types, especially if the load is unbalanced.
  • Be sure the handle fits your hand while you're wearing a glove.
  • Shovel before the snow gets too deep and packed down, then shovel again later if necessary.
  • Or clear off the top 2 inches, take a break, then tackle the next inch or two.

Pay Attention to Your Posture

  • Hold the shovel close to your body, and, if possible, push the snow out of the way rather than lifting it.
  • If you must lift, instead of bending at the waist, squat with your legs apart, knees bent, and back straight.
  • Scoop up small amounts of snow, using your legs to lift.
  • Avoid tossing the snow; the twisting motion can hurt your back. Instead, carry shovelfuls to the snow pile.

Watch for Warning Signs

  • Because shoveling can increase your risk for heart attack, watch out for these symptoms: pressure or pain in your chest, or discomfort spreading to your shoulders, neck, jaw, arms, or back. If you do experience this, call for an ambulance immediately, chew and swallow an aspirin, and lie down.