Tips for Safe Snow Shoveling

Sandy Tschosik, RN
St. Alexius’ Community Health Services Coordinator

Tips for Safe Snow ShovelingIt is winter here in the Midwest, which usually means cold temperatures and yes...snow. While shoveling snow can be good exercise, it also can be a very dangerous activity for some people.  Every winter people injure themselves from shoveling snow. These injuries range from aches and strains to fatal heart attacks.  Shoveling increases the work demands on the heart by quickly increasing heart rate and blood pressure.  Furthermore, cold air makes it harder to work and breathe, which adds extra strain on the heart and body. It can also put us at risk for hypothermia (decreased body temperature) if we are not dressed properly.

Before you pick up the shovel, please consider the following tips:

  • You are at increased risk for a heart attack if you have a history of heart disease, have already had a heart attack, have high blood pressure or high cholesterol, you smoke or you are inactive. If this is the case talk to your health care provider before you shovel.
  • Drink plenty of water as dehydration can happen with exertion in cold weather.
  • Avoid nicotine and caffeine before you start. These are stimulants that can cause blood vessels to constrict and place extra stress on the heart.
  • Warm up and gently stretch the muscles in your arms, legs and back. Warm muscles work better and are less prone to injury.
  • Dress warm and in layers. If you get too warm you can remove layers as required.
  • Take care of and protect your back. If possible, push the snow rather than lift it. Keep your back as straight as you can, bend at the knees and lift with your legs. Do not bend at the waist, avoid twisting and don’t throw the snow over your shoulder.  Pick up smaller loads of snow at a time, keep the load close to your body and point your feet in the direction the snow will be thrown.
  • If possible, clear off the snow as soon as it stops falling. Fresh snow is lighter. If you expect more than a couple of inches to fall, try to clear off a couple of inches at a time even if it is still snowing.
  • Listen to your body. It is very important to go slow and take breaks. If you are tired or experience any pain, stop. If you are experiencing signs of a heart attack, such as chest pain or pressure, pain that radiates to the jaw or between the shoulders or down the arm, sweating, nausea, dizziness and/or shortness of breath, seek medical help immediately. Keep a cell phone in your pocket in case of an emergency. If you don’t have a cell phone but your car has a keyless entry, carry the remote/keys with you and hit the panic button if you need to get someone’s attention and assistance.
  • If you are healthy and able, remember your neighbor who may not be, and take time to clear their steps and walk way. An act of kindness is never wasted.

So let it snow, let it snow, let it snow. Shovel safely this winter and remember, we are one day closer to spring!