How to shovel without over-exerting yourself

Although it's a common task, many people are shoveling the wrong way

Shown in this News Tribune photo from Jan. 12, 2011, Beverly Vaughn removes snow the old-fashioned way, with a shovel.

Shown in this News Tribune photo from Jan. 12, 2011, Beverly Vaughn removes snow the old-fashioned way, with a shovel. Photo by Julie Smith.

Whenever a winter snow storm strikes, it’s important to shovel safely. Lots of people have passed away while shoveling, which proves there’s a right and wrong way to go about removing  snow from your staircase, driveway or porch.

Experts say people should avoid shoveling heavy and wet snow, because the combination of the cold weather and the physical strain from lifting that snow could cause a heart attack.

Who shouldn't shovel

Experts from the Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute in Chicago say heavy smokers, those who are considered obese, people who don’t get a lot of exercise, people over 50 years of age and those who have a history of cardiovascular disease, should speak to their doctors before taking on a shoveling project.

And although shoveling can quickly cause a person to sweat and become overheated, experts say you should still dress in layers and don’t take off your jacket. And if you find yourself a little hot and uncomfortable while shoveling, it’s best to take a small break and cool down, instead of taking off any clothing.

Experts also say to start slowly and pace yourself, as jumping right into shoveling a big amount of snow and trying to do it quickly can increase the chances of  overexertion. In fact, the Bluhm Institute says you should approach shoveling as you would any other physical activity, by stretching first and gradually beginning the activity instead of starting off at full speed.

People also shouldn’t shovel on an empty stomach, experts say. They should eat small meals to maintain their energy. But you should avoid eating heavy meals before shoveling, because digestion puts added strain on the heart. You should also avoid drinking caffeinated beverages for the very same reason.

Additionally, if a snowstorm produces heavy snow, it's best to push it rather than lift it, so using a push broom or simply pushing the snow with the edge of your shovel is better for your heart and will lower the chances of you becoming overexerted, doctors say.

And although you may not associate drinking a lot of fluids with cold weather, it’s important to do so when shoveling, since many people have suffered from dehydration.

Back injuries

A lot of folks have also suffered from back injuries while shoveling, which can easily be prevented if you follow a few easy steps.

David Kingwater, a chiropractor in Whitesboro, NY., says lowering your chances of injury during shoveling can be as simple as just choosing the right shovel.

“The ergonomic shovels if people have seen them, those are the shovels that have the bent handles,” he told a local news outlet. “They are bent so you can shovel while standing upright you don’t have to bend over as far, again placing excess stress on your lumbar spine.”

And many people opt for snow blowers since they obviously remove snow faster and much easier, but there are still some very important safety tips to remember when using them, experts say.

According to the Michigan Institute for Public Safety Education, it’s important that you remove any debris before taking on the snow, since the potential of blowing an object that’s either sharp or hard and striking someone is very high.

Also, you should never blow the snow towards your vehicle or towards a person, say experts, and be sure to never leave the snow blower running if you have to step away for a few seconds.

Safety experts also say to remove the spark plug wire before doing any repairs on your snow blower or if you have to make any modifications to the equipment.

And when shoveling, the Institute says to stretch for a few minutes so you can properly loosen up your arms, back, shoulder, neck and leg muscles, and you should also breathe in while lifting the snow and breathe out while tossing it.

But if you do lift the snow, you should bend your knees and straighten your back while doing it, and be sure not to twist your body, as this too can cause muscle injuries, experts say.

You should remember these small safety tips the next time you're shoveling, because clearing your property so people can walk safely shouldn’t mean putting yourself at risk while doing it.

Story provided by ConsumerAffairs.
Consumer Affairs

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