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8 Tips for Safe Shoveling

1/8/14 3:34 PM
We know the routine all too well. A foot of snow has moved in, created a winter wonderland and it must be moved before you can even think of getting anywhere on time. Hey, look on the bright side -  The American Heart Association recommends we each get 30 minutes of moderate cardiovascular exercise on most days of the week. Shoveling snow for at least 15 minutes counts as a moderate physical activity and puts you that much closer to a healthier heart.

Unfortunately, an increased number of heart attacks are reported after heavy snowfalls. What's the connection? Shoveling can be a demanding task for the body. Some bodies are just not ready for it!

To be sure you're shoveling safely, keep a few things in mind...

  • Avoid stimulants such as caffeine or nicotine before tackling the job. These can increase your heart rate, causing blood vessels to constrict and placing extra stress on the heart.
  • Drink plenty of water - before and after shoveling! Dehydration is just as important to avoid in the winter as in the summer.
  • Dress in layers. We know that it's tempting to bundle up before going outside, but as you shovel and body temperature rises you might want to remove layers as you go. Synthetic fibers (in a lot of athletic-type clothing) help to wick away perspiration better than natural fibers (such as cotton).
  • Find the right shovel for you. Choosing a shovel with a smaller blade will require lifting less snow at a time and put less strain on your body.
  • Pace yourself. Begin shoveling slowly to avoid a sudden demand on your heart. Take breaks as needed.
  • Protect your back from injury. Lift correctly - stand with your feet about hip width apart and keep the shovel close to your body. Bend from the knees (not the back!) and tighten your stomach muscles as you lift the snow. Avoid twisting movements - if you need to move the snow to one side, reposition your feet to face the direction you need the snow to go.
  • Try to shovel right after the snow lands. Shoveling wet, hard-packed snow is a much harder task than shoveling light, fluffy snow. 
  • Most importantly, listen to your body! If you feel pain, that's a sign to stop. If you are typically inactive or have a history of heart trouble, talk to your doctor before you take on the task.



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Tips provided by the therapists of Onondaga Physical Therapy - practicing in Syracuse, Baldwinsville, Cicero and Liverpool, NY.

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Topics: Low back pain, healthy habits, tips