The snow won't shovel itself
It is that time of year again and I am about to head out and shovel some deep snow off my driveway. Here in Missouri, we are under a winter storm watch that has effectively shut down the state. So it is time to roll up my sleeves (or down for that matter) and start digging.
I grew up in MInnesota as a kid and shoveling was etched into my DNA. Getting outside in frigid temperatures and throwing snow was a daily chore for me in the winter time. So bundling up and getting some cold fresh air is always enjoyable for me.
However, snow shoveling can lead to a number of health risks for many people, from back injuries to heart attacks. The mix of cold temperatures and physical exertion increases the workload on the heart,¹ which may increase the risk of a heart attack for some. According to the American Heart Association, even walking through heavy, wet snow can place strain on your heart.
So here are some tips to keep you safe when you set out to shovel:
Get warmed up: Warm your muscles before heading out to shovel by doing some light movements, such as bending side to side or walking in place. At this point you want to start your deep breathing to get that oxygen moving.
Push: It is all about leverage and using your body weight. A quick push will easily load up the shovel and a good follow through push will move it out of the way. *When lifting snow, bend your knees and use your legs when possible.
Choose your shovel wisely: Ergonomically-designed shovels can help reduce the amount of bending you have to do. When picking out your shovel be sure to handle it to determine if it is a good fit for you.
Go lite: Consider using a lighter-weight plastic shovel instead of a metal one to help decrease the weight being lifted. Keep in mind that over time as your endurance fades, the shovel will feel heavier as you go.
Take a break: Pace yourself and be sure to take frequent breaks. Consider taking a break after 20 to 30 minutes of shoveling, especially when the snow is wet.
Pace yourself: If you can break the job over time throughout the storm, you will avoid having to move large amounts of snow at once. Try to shovel snow shortly after it falls, when it is lighter and fluffier. The longer snow stays on the ground, the wetter it can become. Wet snow is heavier and harder to move.
Dress to impress: Dress in layers and remove them as you get warm to help maintain a comfortable body temperature. This is always a good move when performing physical activity in the cold.
Start day drinking: Before you head out make sure to drink at least 16 ounces of water. While you are working, drink 12 to 16 ounces or water every 20 to 30 mins.
A national study² found that the most common shoveling-related injuries were to the lower back. Cardiac-related injuries account for only 7% of all injuries, but they were the most serious in nature. If you do not workout on a regular basis, are middle-aged or older, or have any health conditions, such as heart disease or high blood pressure, you should check with your doctor before doing any strenuous shoveling. Consider using a snow blower or snow removal service as an alternative means of snow removal.
Shoveling snow is a chore, but when following these tips it can be fun. Grab a pair of headphones and do a little dance while you work. Finding joy in doing chores is the first step to success!
John “Wyld Stile” Larson
¹ American Heart Association, http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Affiliate/Shoveling-Snow-Health-Hazards_UCM_426562_Article.jsp
² Nationwide Children's, http://www.nationwidechildrens.org/news-room-articles/new-national-study-finds-11500-emergency-department-visits-nearly-100-deaths-related-to-snow-shoveling-each-year?contentid=86424