There are plenty of potentially hazardous activities that go along with the holiday season and the start of winter, such as stringing up Christmas lights, navigating the icy roads, and hopping on those skis or other snow sports equipment, just to name a few. This is also the time of year when we break out the snow shovels and ice melt, so that we, and our neighbors and visitors, can safely navigate our walkways and sidewalks.
When considering the potential hazards of winter, snow shoveling probably doesn't come to mind as an obvious one, but it should. According to the U.S. Product and Safety Commission, more than 200,000 people visited the emergency room last year alone due to injuries sustained while shoveling or removing snow and ice. The most common snow shoveling injuries? Overworked muscles, back injuries, and broken bones (from falling), followed by heart problems. And those over the age of 55 were more than four times more likely to get injured while shoveling.
So, if you live in a snowy region, or have close friend or family members who do, here are a few tips to pass along covering ways to wield your shovel responsibly this winter:
- Dress for the weather: Don't try to shovel without gloves, sturdy boots, and a coat that is warm, yet breathable. This will keep your body at the right temperature and working the way it should as you engage in physical activity.
- Warm up: Just like any workout routine, make sure and warm up your muscles before you start, or start slowly to get warmed up before really digging in.
- Use the right tool: Purchase a decent quality shovel that feels right for your height and strength. Make sure it has a sturdy handle that won't break or twist off. If you're not that strong, choose a plastic blade rather than a heavier, metal one.
- Practice good form: Just as with any exercises at the gym, there is a proper way to shovel snow in order to avoid injury and strain. If possible, push the snow off to the side rather than lifting and depositing it. If you have to lift snow, use the correct lifting posture: back straight, knees slightly bent. Avoid extreme twisting motions.
- Listen to your body: Shoveling can be a truly strenuous activity, so don't push it. If you start to feel especially cold, hot, or exhausted, or if you feel pain, take a break.
- Don't procrastinate: The more you keep up with the snow, the less likely you are to get injured. So don't wait for the snow to accumulate; instead, shovel early and often.
- Consult your doctor: For some populations, snow shoveling is a truly dangerous activity because of the level of strain it can put on the heart. If you are older, pregnant, or have heart disease, be sure to run your snow shoveling plans by a physician.
Unfortunately, those of us who live in chilly climates cannot avoid the necessity of snow removal throughout the winter season. Follow these tips to be sure this common activity doesn't end up in injury or worse.