Winter is now upon us here in Maine. That means piles of the white stuff to clear from driveways and sidewalks. As most of us know, shoveling is very hard work. The good news is that snow shoveling can be good exercise when performed correctly. Just 15 minutes of shoveling counts as moderate physical activity, and we should all strive for 30 minutes of moderate physical activity daily. The bad news is that this form of physical activity can put significant stress on your body. Research has shown an increase in the number of fatal heart attacks among snow shovelers after heavy snowfalls. Snow shoveling can also place excessive strain on spinal structures resulting in low back strains and disc damage.
Here are some tips to keep you healthy when shoveling snow this winter.
- Listen to your body. Stop shoveling if you experience any pain. If you are inactive or have a history of heart trouble talk to your doctor before you take on the task of shoveling.
- Warm up first. Warm, relaxed muscles are more efficient and less likely to sprain or strain than cold tight muscles.
- Pick the right shovel. A curved handle enables you to keep your back straighter when shoveling. Appropriate handle length is also important. A smaller blade will require you to lift less snow thus putting less strain on your body.
- Begin shoveling slowly. Pace yourself and take breaks. Push the snow instead of lifting it. This puts much less strain on the spine.
- Lift correctly. Stand with your feet about hip width apart. 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.
- Drink plenty of water. Dehydration is just as big an issue in the cold winter months as it is in the heat of summer.