3 Things to Avoid When Shoveling Snow

Hannah Cline's picture
By Hannah Cline on February 19, 2016

In  Virginia, winter weather is often greeted with mixed reviews. Some are excited to see snow in the forecast, while others are more inclined to complain until the last flake has melted.

Regardless of where your snow loyalties lie, there is a universal truth to every major snowfall: cleanup is required.

Whether you are embarking on a project like digging out a car or simply trying to clear a path for a canine friend, shoveling snow can be a workout, and one that not many people are prepared for.

“A lot of people don’t understand that shoveling snow is not your normal household chore,” said Jack Perkins, M.D., emergency medicine physician at Carilion Clinic. “It’s a physically demanding activity that’s essentially the equivalent of jumping off the couch into a vigorous workout.”

This leads to increased heart rate, blood pressure and ultimately stress on the heart. For older individuals or those with a history of heart problems, shoveling snow actually increases your chances of having a heart attack. 

In fact, this winter alone, four separate snow shoveling-related cardiac arrests have already been reported at Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital, three of which proved fatal.

Shoveling after a snowstorm is inevitable. Shoveling-related injuries, however, are often preventable. Here are three common mistakes that put people in harm’s way before they even pick up a shovel:

1. Overlooking the warm up.

There is a common misconception that shoveling snow is a regular household task. However, as mentioned, it is a vigorous form of exercise for which warming up is a must. Don’t be afraid to stretch and get your heart rate up before shoveling heavy loads of snow. You could walk around the block, march in place and stretch in order to prep your body for physical exertion and lower your risk of pulling a muscle or throwing out your back.  

2. Overestimating physical limits.

Before clearing any snow, you should ask yourself if you are the right person to do the job. Take a second to evaluate your physical limitations. Do not shovel snow if you have a history of heart disease (e.g. heart attack, bypass surgery, stents). If you are over 65, you should ask your doctor if you are physically fit enough to shovel snow.

If you do decide to shovel, start slowly and see how you feel within the first five minutes. Choose an appropriate pace and take breaks.   

3. Forgetting the Basics Stay hydrated and stay dry.

People do not necessarily think to make drinking water a priority during the winter months. However, no matter the time of year, staying hydrated is an important part of prepping for physical activity. Likewise, it is crucial to choose your clothing wisely. In order to stay warm and dry, dress in layers and wear wicking fabric that pulls moisture away from the skin. 

Pro-snow or not, it is always important to be prepared for winter weather. If you have any questions or concerns about shoveling snow, talk with you medical provider.