Published on December 19, 2012 at 12:36 PM
Each year, thousands of people are treated in emergency departments across the United States for heart attacks, broken bones and other injuries related to snow shoveling.
Shoveling is a highly physical activity that is comparable to lifting heavy weights repeatedly and quickly. People with a history of back or heart problems should ask someone else to do the heavy shoveling. If you have to do it yourself, know your limits and don't overdo it.
Loyola physicians are available to comment on the dangers of shoveling snow. Here are a few tips for staying healthy during shoveling season:
1.Do a physical warm-up. Like any exercise our bodies need to prepare for strenuous exercise. Try taking a brief walk or marching in place for 5-10 minutes. Also, add arm movements and stretch your back to get your upper body prepared.
2.Dress appropriately. Wearing layers allows you to adjust to the temperature outside. When you are going to be outside for a long time, cover your skin to prevent frostbite.
3.Use a small shovel that has a curved handle. A shovel with wet snow can weigh up to 15 pounds. A small shovel ensures you have a lighter load, which can prevent injury.
4.Separate your hands on the shovel. By creating space between your hands, you can increase your leverage on the shovel.
5.Lift with your legs, not your back. Make sure your knees are bending and straightening to lift the shovel instead of leaning forward and straightening with the back.
6.Shovel frequently. Don't wait until the snow piles up. Shovel intermittently, after about every 2 inches of snow fall.
7.Push the snow. It is easier and better for your back to push the snow rather than lift it. Also, never throw snow over your shoulders.
8.Pace yourself. Take breaks and gently stretch your back, arms and legs before returning to work.
9.Stay hydrated. Drinking plenty of water is important when exercising regardless of the outside temperature.
10.Avoid caffeine, nicotine and alcoholic beverages. Caffeine and nicotine are stimulants that increase the heart rate and constrict blood vessels, putting strain on your heart. Alcohol can dull your senses and make you vulnerable to hypothermia and frostbite.
Source: Loyola University Health System (LUHS)