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Shoveling Snow - How to Stay Safe and Prevent Injuries

 With the heavy snowfalls the world has experienced in the past few weeks, many of us are forced to pick up the snow shovel for the first time in years. If you’re not used to shoveling snow on a regular basis and don’t know how to do it safely, it can be more dangerous than you’d think. Every year, 11,500 people in the United States are admitted to the hospital with cardiac events and injuries caused by shoveling snow.
As many as a hundred people die as a result of shoveling snow annually. The most common concern is a lower back injury, but cardiovascular injuries are the most dangerous and potentially life-threatening. In order to stay safe while shoveling snow and prevent related injuries, follow these tips.

1. Shoveling snow is a strenuous activity

How to Shovel Snow Safely man in hospital
Are you suffering from cardiovascular issues or heart disease? If so, shoveling snow should be off the table for you, as the cold weather combined with the heavy lifting will be very taxing on the heart. When you shovel snow, your heart rate increases and your body needs more oxygen. Someone with a faulty heart valve, coronary artery disease, or a weak heart muscle will simply not be able to deal with all this pressure.
The cold weather doesn’t help either. As Shoeb Sitafalwalla, MD, a cardiologist, said in a statement, “In the cold weather, your smaller arteries, particularly in your feet and arms, have a tendency to constrict, and it creates a lot of back pressure on the heart.” Therefore, it’s best not to take any chances.
Cardiac-related issues are the number one cause of death as a result of shoveling snow. So if you’re suffering from any heart condition, find someone else to clear the snow for you.

2. Warm up before you start

How to Shovel Snow Safely hamstring stretch
First and foremost, let’s point out that it’s imperative to wear footwear with a good grip while shoveling snow. This way, you can protect yourself from slipping and falling while you’re clearing the snow. As with any exercise or demanding activity, it’s also a good idea to warm up the body before you start shoveling snow. Do a few squats or jumping jacks, stretch your shoulders and arms by making big circles with your arms, and do a few hamstrings stretches to warm up the legs.
Since the most common injury related to snow shoveling is a back injury, it’s also a good idea to stretch your back muscles after clearing the snow. If you need a few ideas as to the specific stretches you can do, read our previous article titled 5 Back Strengthening Stretches That Anyone Can Do.

3. Stay in shape

How to Shovel Snow Safely woman in the snow with a shovel
Those who don’t exercise regularly have a 70-80% higher risk of having a heart attack when shoveling snow compared to those who stay in shape year-round. Don’t underestimate the physical strength and toughness that this activity requires, and be very careful or avoid doing it altogether if you don’t exercise often and you’re not engaged in physically-demanding activities on a regular basis.
Try to take breaks while shoveling snow and monitor your heart health during the breaks, especially if you’re not shoveling snow regularly. Stop immediately and take your heart medication (for those with cardiovascular issues) if you feel tightness or pain in the chest, shortness of breath, or any other unsettling symptoms. Read our article on how to detect a heart attack to be prepared: The Tell-Tale Signs and Symptoms of a Heart Attack.

4. Avoid having a heavy meal right before shoveling snow

How to Shovel Snow Safely meal
This seems unrelated, but doctors point out that digestion requires a lot of oxygen-rich blood, so combining a heavy meal with a strenuous activity like shoveling snow may be a bit too much for your system, especially if you’re not doing it regularly.
Alcohol isn’t a good idea either. You may think that alcohol will warm you up before you go outside, but it actually constricts the blood vessels and worsens the back pressure on the heart, so it’s best to enjoy a different warm drink, like tea, before your head out to clear out the snow.

5. Shovel less snow but more often

How to Shovel Snow Safely Shovel in the snow
This last tip we'll include is logical and easy, but many people still often wait until the last minute and end up lifting heavy piles of packed and wet snow for some reason. Doctors heavily advise everyone to shovel the snow as often as they can during a heavy snowfall instead of waiting for the snow to pile up.
Fresh and powdery snow is much easier to clear away than heavy piles of wet snow. Whenever safe and possible, clear out the snow in small layers to reduce the strain on your system.
Also, use the right technique when shoveling snow: remember to push the snow to the sides of the path or driveway instead of lifting it with the shovel whenever possible. This way, you’ll be putting much less strain on your back, arm muscles, and heart. When you do have to lift some snow, bend and lift with your legs instead of the arms. For more snow shoveling tips and tricks, look through our article Clear Away Snow Quickly and Efficiently.
Share this article with those who live in colder climates!
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