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Snow Shoveling Safety

Category : Active Living

If you live in Wisconsin, shoveling snow is as inevitable as eating cheese but not nearly as fun (or tasty!). Shoveling combines intense aerobic activity with weight-lifting, so even if you are in shape, it is important to do it right.

Who should not shovel?
Anyone all ready experiencing back problems or any cardiac risk factors (history of heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smokers) should let someone else do the work or get a snow blower. If in doubt, talk to your primary care giver before you start. You could save yourself a lot of pain and money by delegating this task!

How to Avoid Shoveling Injuries
As for the rest of us, shoveling can be great exercise as long as we do it right. Shoveling snow can aggravate your back and increase your risk of cardiac-related conditions. Here are some tips for avoiding shoveling injuries.

1. Warm-up. Avoid straining your muscles and cardiac system by gradually increasing your heart rate and stretching. Before you pick up a shovel, do each of the following exercises 5x:

· Stand on one leg and swing the other forward with a straight leg and back bending your knee to bring your heel toward your butt.
· Slowly bend forward to touch your toes.
· Circle shoulders forward and backward.
· Reach one hand up to sky while reaching other hand down the side of your leg toward your knee; switch sides.
· Get on hands and knees or stand facing a chair and place your hands on the seat. Arch your back curving it down toward floor with tailbone lifted and shoulder blades pulled together; then round back up toward ceiling tucking tailbone under and letting head hang between arms.

2. Drink water. You will probably break a sweat shoveling so drink some water before you head out. Dehydration can stress your heart.

3. Dress properly. Yes, it is cold and you want to bundle up, but in a few minutes you may start to overheat, so dress in layers you can remove. Overheating places undue stress upon your heart. Also, proper footwear is important not only to keep your toes warm, but also so that you have good traction.

4. Use proper technique.
· Push the snow. Instead of lifting it, lower the handle to about hip height and “plow” it.
· When you must lift; use your legs. That means you should bend your knees NOT at the waist.
· Take small scoops. It might take longer, but you won’t strain as much.
· Avoid holding your breath! It sounds silly, but holding your breath causes a sudden increase in blood pressure.
· Abdominal bracing (tighten up as if someone is about to punch you in the stomach) will protect your back.
· Switch lead leg and hand to avoid overuse. This feels awkward like writing with your non-dominant hand, but do it anyway and you will not only get more coordinated; but stay balanced.
· Avoid twisting and don’t throw snow over your shoulder.

5. Take breaks. Pay attention to how you feel. Take a break every 5-10 minutes to recover if you are over doing it and never ignore chest pain or tightness.

6. Timing is everything. If possible, shovel later in the day because a back injury is more likely to occur in the early morning due to the build-up of fluid in the spinal column from lying down all night. If you have to shovel in the morning (most of us do) be sure use the warm ups listed above!

7. Stretch when you are done. You might feel like collapsing in a heap, but you should do the same stretches mentioned for the warm-up.

Shoveling may be a necessary evil, but done correctly it doesn’t have to be a pain. I hope you will get out and enjoy the snow whether you ski, snowshoe, or just build a snow man with your kids.

Do you have a health or fitness question? Contact me
Yours in Health & Fitness,

Karin Jennings is a certified personal trainer and co-owner of XO Fitness, LLC in De Pere.