College of DuPage Nursing Student Abigale Janouch is thinking ahead as she shares that some think winter is beautiful while others dread those cold snowy days. Snow can be beautiful, but it’s also a pain to shovel. Those who do shovel, shudder at the thought of the feeling of that burning sensation you get in your legs, arms, and back. Shoveling snow is an intense exercise and takes a lot of energy. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC, 2020), a 185-pound person can expect to burn about 266 calories after just a half-hour of shoveling. Shoveling snow does come with health risks, however.
Since we do not shovel snow in ideal weather, rather in cold, windy, and icy weather, the weather may be one of the most dangerous aspects of shoveling. When the temperature drops below freezing, your heart works harder to maintain body heat.
The mix of the extreme weather and intense exercise puts too added stress on the heart and may trigger a heart attack. Those who have high blood pressure or a past history of heart disease are at an increased risk of having a heart attack when exercising intensely. It is, therefore, advisable to discuss whether or not shoveling snow is a good idea before heading out into the cold to perform this strenuous exercise.
It is also advisable to prepare your body to shovel snow rather than initiating this activity without any prior preparation. Dressing properly is one of the first steps to safely shovel in the cold. Tips to proper clothing include determining how many layers are necessary by checking the weather forecast, wearing loose-fitting clothing, as sweating results in heat loss so it is likely to begin sweating in which case extra layers may need to be removed.
Other tips for safe snow shoveling include:
- Using proper body form and the correct tools, such as a small light plastic shovel that limits the size of scoops of snow and is lighter than a metal shovel. The proper form is essential; lifting the legs rather than using the back to lift the snow-filled shovel will prevent back injuries. Bending at the knees and choking up on the shovel by keeping it close to the body, then pushing with the legs instead of twisting will also help to prevent injuries. Another idea for ease of work may involve pushing the snow instead of lifting and throwing.
- Take breaks: breaks prevent overworking muscles and dehydration. Drink plenty of water and stop frequently to catch your breath. Shoveling snow requires leg, back, core, shoulder, and arm muscles so it is important to not overdo it!
- Become familiar with the signs and symptoms of hypothermia and frostbite. Hypothermia happens when a person is in extremely cold temperatures and initial signs may include confusion, slurred speech, and shivering. Frostbite is an injury that results from frozen skin and tissues with the initial signs of red skin that is extremely cold, becomes numb, then hard and pale. Knowing these signs will alert as to when it is time to go inside and warm up.
- Lastly, knowing the signs and symptoms of a heart attack are essential. If these occur, call 9-1-1 immediately. These symptoms are due to the heart muscle not getting enough blood flow and oxygen and the need for assistance is imminent.
Shoveling snow can be an enjoyable activity with the right clothing and by implementing safety measures. Since it is a necessity, it is helpful to make it as enjoyable as possible to endure those long winter months.