Nothing tells you that you’re out of shape quite like the harsh reality of how easily winded you get when you’re shovelling snow. Even those who exercise regularly will likely attest to the fact that shovelling is hard work; it’s hard on your heart, and your body.
For some, shovelling snow is a fantastic means of exercise which combines a cardio workout as well as muscle strengthening through lifting heavy snow. That being said, it can also be dangerous and straining on your body in a bad way. Snow shovelling can lead to heart attacks in those who are susceptible to them, and it can also lead to strain injuries.
My last blog post was about raking leaves and how few people consider how easy it is to get an injury while doing so. Snow shovelling is very similar. With raking, many people injure themselves by twisting their bodies in ways they shouldn’t twist. With shovelling, you’re using all of your major muscle groups all at once. It’s a CrossFit lover’s dream chore. This is why it’s so important to stretch and warm up before shovelling. Warm muscles are less likely to be injured and will work much more efficiently.
Furthermore, it is important to have proper technique when lifting heavy loads with a shovel. According to the University of Vermont, the proper way to shovel is with the following technique:
“Stand with your feet about hip-width apart for balance and keep the shovel close to your body. When you grip the shovel, make sure your hands are at least 12 inches apart. By creating distance between your hands, you increase your leverage and reduce the strain on your body. Push the snow rather than lift it. Save your back and your energy by simply pushing the snow to the side. If you must lift, bend your knees and keep your back as straight as possible so that the lifting comes from your leg muscles, not your back. Tighten your stomach muscles as you lift. If you must throw the snow, take only as much snow as you can easily lift, reposition your feet to face the direction the snow will be going and step in the direction you throw the snow.”
It is no myth that cases of heart attacks in seniors increase in number after heavy snowfalls, and it’s not something to take lightly. Even pushing a heavy snow blower can have a like effect. According to Patrick J. Skerrett, former Executive Editor of Harvard Health, this precarious situation can be exacerbated by the fact that cold weather can “boost blood pressure, interrupt blood flow to part of the heart, and make blood more likely to form clots”. It’s the perfect recipe to cause cardiac arrest.
Here are some tips from Harvard Health on how to avoid injury and cardiac episodes while shovelling:
- Warm up your muscles before starting. Just like I mentioned in my blog about raking leaves, it is important to stretch and warm up your body before any physical exercise.
- Instead of moving large loads of heavy snow, take the time to move lighter ones. Like I say in my massage practice, sometimes it is better to pass over something five times lightly instead of twice really hard.
- Take frequent breaks. If you’re in a rush to get out of your driveway in the morning, maybe this means moving just enough snow that you can get your car out, and dealing with the rest when you have more time. This will ensure that you won’t attempt to do it all at once and can take breaks when you feel that they are necessary.
- Drink plenty of water. Sometimes it’s easy to forget to do this in the winter because it is not hot out. That does not mean you do not sweat when it is cold out and you are exercising. It is very important to replace your fluids so that your body will function optimally throughout the exercise and afterwards.
- Don’t feel like you need to clear all of the snow. Seriously, this is Canada. It’ll probably be +6°C and raining in two days (sound familiar?)
- Recognize the signs of a heart attack. If you start to feel tightness or pain in your chest, lightheaded, short of breath, or if any change in your body function makes you nervous, head inside right away. And call 911 if you think it might be a heart attack.
Snow shovelling is high intensity exercise and it is often done by people who are not used to that. This is a gentle reminder that we are not titans and sometimes we should take it easy, even if the chore seems mundane. It is important to slow down, be deliberate, and take care of ourselves.
Another gentle reminder that it is a new calendar year for prescriptions now. This is a good time to go into your doctor and renew your prescription for Massage Therapy, or to ask for one if you do not have it already. If you are experiencing muscle soreness or an injury from clearing out your driveway, I am always happy to help!