There are 2 things that are often associated with shoveling during the winter season, especially in a place like Buffalo where we get hit hard almost every year: Back injury and Overexertion.
People who aren’t ordinarily susceptible to these things are STILL at risk so it is important to be educated.
BEFORE YOU START, ASK YOURSELF:
- Are you strong/healthy enough to jog a mile? If you’re not, chances are your heart isn’t conditioned enough to shovel or snow-blow intensely. If you are in this category, be prepared to take frequent breaks and DO NOT overexert yourself just to finish up quickly.
- Did you just eat a heavy meal? If you did, you need to wait at least 30-45 minutes before you go out and start shoveling. Would you eat a heavy meal and then hop on the treadmill for sprints?
- Would you Doctor approve you for intense cardio exercise and lifting? If you don’t think so, play it safe.
KEEPING YOUR HEART SAFE:
- Start with a warm up and finish with a cool down. Walk around to increase your heart rate slowly. Don’t jump in cold. Take time to let your breath and heart rate recover before you run inside and sit on the couch.
- Take breaks to do some body weight squats, or mini hops to get blood flowing to your lower body. Your heart is designed to send blood to the working muscles. When you shovel, you are engaging in short, explosive movements with a small appendage (your arms). Your heart slows blood flow to other areas of the body and sends it to your arms. This is a big strain on your heart if it’s not conditioned.
- If you are already at risk for high blood pressure, stay out of the snow. Shoveling is known to raise blood pressure extremely rapidly due to the short, explosive movements.
- Take breaks BEFORE you think you need one. Don’t let your lungs burn before you take a break.
- Stay hydrated. This is intense exercise!
- Know heart attack warning signs and PAY ATTENTION to them. Remember that if your street is unplowed and you don’t know how you’d get to a hospital it may be best to play it safe. Remember to use wisdom!
If you are sure your heart can handle shoveling/snow-blowing, then pay attention to these tips to keep your back healthy. Be proactive if you start experiencing symptoms. In a situation like this, assumer the worst so you can be prepared to handle it if it is an emergency. Better safe than sorry!
KEEPING YOUR BACK SAFE:
- Warm up and cool down before and after starting. Don’t take this lightly.
- Don’t shovel from the bottom of the pile. Start skimming off the top and then get deeper.
- Keep the heaviest part of the load as close to your body as possible, and keep one hand close to the shovel for better leverage
- Engage your abs, hinge from your hips and bend your knees to pick up snow. DO NOT bend through your spine or “hunch” forward.
***Note: Doing it with proper form WILL force you to slow down, and that is not a bad thing! Listen to your body!
- Keep your hips and shoulders square to each other. Do not twist or rotate to pick up snow or unload it, but instead pivot your feet.
- Instead of tossing the snow to the place where you’re unloading it, walk there. Yes it takes more time, but throwing out your back will take a lot MORE time to recover from then walking 3 feet to the snow pile.
Last thing to consider, some tough love from me :). If you find yourself in a situation where you have to seriously consider whether you’re fit, healthy and strong enough to shovel, it is time to get serious about getting in shape. We have one chance, one body and one life to live. It is our responsibility to be good stewards over what we’ve been given, and to take good care of our bodies.
Regular activity, strength training, and cardio along with a healthy diet and high quality supplements are vital to living a long, healthy life. So many diseases and injuries can be prevented with intentional care of our bodies and our health.
It is SO not about how we look, yet we allow that to be our driving force. I think that all too often we think that our “why” to exercise and eat well is simply because of how we look at the beach, when what truly matters is if we’re healthy enough to go to the beach or to play with our kids, or our grandchildren. We don’t wonder if we’re healthy enough to run around and chase a ball, or go for a walk until it’s too late and we realize we aren’t.
It boils down to the quality of your life you choose to have. And how much value you place on that. I hope that if you find that you’re not physically fit enough to get outside and shovel, that you resolve in your heart to change that so you can be strong, healthy and fit next year. Not for the sake of shoveling, but for the sake of you. 🙂
Note: Even if you can answer YES to all of these questions, it is important to consult your doctor before engaging in any sort of physical activity, even shoveling or snow-blowing.