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How to Shovel Snow Safely

A blanket of snow is lovely…until you have to clean it off your driveway. And shoveling snow is no easy task. Major snowstorms are associated with increased emergency room visits for everything from muscle aches to heart attacks, often caused by snow shoveling. Here’s how to keep yourself in the clear:

  1. Talk to your doctor.
    You need to get your doctor’s OK if you have a history of heart attacks, heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, asthma, or if you smoke or are inactive.
  2. Get prepped.
    Before you head out, avoid eating a big meal, smoking, or drinking caffeine. (All can put stress on your body.) Warm up your muscles by walking around your house, then stretching. And, of course, layer up before heading out.
  3. Make it an S.
    Use a lightweight shovel that has a curved, S-shaped handle and non-stick blades and is designed to push snow. Pushing snow away from you, rather than lifting it, reduces the strain on your heart and back.
  4. Do leg lifts.
    If you can’t avoid picking up snow, only fill your shovel partway. Keep your back straight, and bend and lift with your legs. Don’t throw snow over your shoulder or to one side, as that can strain your back and shoulders.
  5. Keep it light.
    Try to shovel soon after the snow falls, so it is lighter and less wet. If you are shoveling deep snow, push or lift only a few inches at a time.
  6. Pay attention to your body.
    Drink water frequently. If you feel out of breath, stop and rest for as long as you need. Stop right away if you feel tightness in your chest.

Can snow shoveling really be dangerous?

Unfortunately, yes. Consider the facts:

  • For sedentary, out-of-shape Americans, shoveling heavy, wet snow for 10 minutes is equivalent to running on a treadmill to exhaustion.
  • With the combination of shoveling and typical winter temperatures, heart attack deaths triple among men aged 35 to 49.
  • Most people who have heart attacks while shoveling have no history of heart disease.
  • The cold winter air raises blood pressure. This is true for people who don’t normally have blood pressure problems and for people who already have high blood pressure.