Safe Snow Shoveling

For your children, falling snow means making snowmen, going tobogganing, and maybe even a day off school. For you, falling snow means hauling out the old snow shovel and spending half the day in your driveway and winding up with a sore back. Shoveling snow is not the highlight of wintertime for most people. But you can minimize your risk of health problems by learning how to shovel the right way.

The Old Heave Ho
On the plus side, snow shoveling is considered to be a moderate form of exercise. Tests done to evaluate the intensity level of snow shoveling have found that, at times, it can even be classified as vigorous exercise. So if you can’t get yourself out to the gym today, then you can still get a good workout by shoveling snow. However, because of the cold air, your body may have a harder time with the task. The wintry temperatures can impede your ability to breathe as well as to work. Unfortunately, many people forget this and just get right to shoveling at a fast and furious pace, which is a recipe for disaster.

Studies have shown that the numbers of fatal heart attacks tend to increase after a heavy snowfall. Experts believe that these heart attacks can be directly linked to snow shoveling. Since snow shoveling can cause a sudden increase in your heart rate and blood pressure, people at risk of a heart attack may be placing themselves in danger. If you’re already considered to be at risk of a heart attack (if you have high blood pressure or cholesterol, smoke or have a history of heart attacks), then you should probably pass the shovel to someone else.

Oh, My Back!
Many people experience a sore back after an afternoon spent snow shoveling. While you may accept this as part of the shoveling experience, you shouldn’t. You can avoid doing any damage to your back simply by employing these shoveling techniques.

  • Instead of lifting the snow, push it to the side whenever you can
  • When the snow absolutely has to be lifted, then stand with your feet hip distance apart, keep the shovel close to your body and always bend from the knees, not from the back or torso
  • Tighten your abdominal muscles as you lift the shovel. This will help provide your back with extra support
  • It is best to throw the snow in front of you; avoid tossing it to the side or over your shoulder. If that’s the only place for it, then turn your feet so that your body is facing the direction the snow will be going

Safety Tips
Here are some more tips to help make sure your shoveling days are safe.

  • Avoid placing more stress on your heart by not consuming any stimulants, like caffeine and nicotine, before going out. These can increase your heart rate, causing your blood vessels to narrow
  • Prevent hypothermia by dressing in layers. Overheating can also be dangerous, so remove the layers as you work up a sweat
  • Since shoveling is exercise, there is a risk of becoming dehydrated, so make sure you drink plenty of fluids
  • Doing some stretches or going for a short walk to warm up your legs, arms and back will help reduce your risk of injury and get your body to work more efficiently (which means you’ll be done sooner)
  • When buying a shovel, look a smaller one that will scoop up less snow and therefore place less strain on your body
  • Two people can always do the job faster than one, so go ahead and ask for help
  • Start your shoveling slowly and pace yourself. Take a break whenever you feel you need one. Always listen to your body – if something doesn’t feel right, then stop shoveling

And, finally, just remember: spring will be here soon enough.