With so much snow being dumped on us last weekend at such an unexpected rate, I think there were a lot of our neighbors, friends and families who were under-prepared for impending storm system. That means that everyone woke up, got dressed, and thought about when, or more importantly how, to dig out from all of this snow. Most, if not all of the people you and I know, probably just went out grabbed a shovel and started tossing snow around as fast as they could. In doing this though, most probably didn’t think about the repercussions these activities would have on their bodies. So, as this next storm system speeds our way on course to hit out area tomorrow sometime, what better time to go over some of the basic, BUT important rules and tips for proper shoveling technique in order to protect your health, your heart and your back.

Your Heart

According to the 1996 Surgeon General’s Report on Physical Activity and Health, shoveling snow is considered as a moderate physical activity if you actively do it for 15 minutes. Since we should all aim to try and accomplish at least 30 minutes of physical activity 3-4 days per week, this can be a good thing for a lot of us. On the flip side of that though, there are reported increases in the number of fatal heart attacks related to shoveling snow in heavy snowfalls.

“How do I know if I’m at risk when shoveling snow?”

  • Any person who has had a previous heart attack
  • Individuals with a history of heart disease
  • Persons who smoke
  • “Couch potatoes”, or those who with sedentary lifestyles
  • Individuals with high blood pressure and/or high cholesterol levels
“How can I keep my heart safe when shoveling snow?”
  • If you are one of those sedentary lifestyle individuals, or have a history of heart trouble, absolutely talk to your doctor before going out to the drive with shovel in hand
  • Caffeine and nicotine should be avoided before beginning to shovel. Both cause your blood vessels to constrict since they are stimulants and also increase your heart rate.
  • Drink lots and lots of water. Getting dehydrated in the winter is just as big an issue as it is in the summer.
  • Make sure to dress yourself in layers so that one can be removed as needed.
  • Start slow and work your way into it. Take breaks if needed and pace yourself.
“Should I warm up?”
  • Since shoveling snow is a combination of cardiovascular exercise and weightlifting, it would only make sense to warm up properly. You’re not going to wake up, step outside and start running sprints or start bench pressing 225lbs right? Of course you wouldn’t, you would warm up the muscles properly so as not to injure them.
  • Start by walking in place or marching around the driveway.
  • Stretch the muscles in your arms and your legs, because you’ll be using them all.
  • Warm muscles are not only less likely to injure, but they also work more efficiently.
Your Back


“How about protecting my back?”
  • Remember to warm up all of the muscles you will be using, including your back muscles.
  • Pick a shovel that is right for you.
    • A shovel with a smaller blade may carry less snow, but will put much less stress on your body.
    • A proper fitting shovel should have a handle that reaches about chest high.
  • Use a good technique
    • Stand with your feet shoulder width apart.
    • Keep the shovel close to your body.
    • Space your hands our for leverage.
    • Keep your head down and in line with a straight back.
    • Avoid extending your arms. Keep each shovel full close to your body.
  • Bend from your knees, and tighten your stomach muscles as you lift the snow.
  • Never twist, especially with a shovel full of that heavy snow.
  • Minimize the distance that you carry the snow.
    • Try to only walk a couple of feet with each shovel full.
    • Keep the shovel full close to the ground.
  • Clear deep snow (like this last storm’s) layer by layer.

Some final important tips for everyone…

  • Listen to what your body tells you.
  • If you feel pain or are winded / fatigued — STOP
  • If you feel chest pain or other symptoms of a heart attack — CALL 911

There is no reason to run out and buy a brand new snow blower. Not everyone who shovels snow is going to have a heart attack or come down with an acute low back condition. Snow shoveling can be good exercise and a fun activity if the family all gets involved. Just remember to be smart and safe. Perform the activity correctly and remember that your health is the most important, not getting the car out of the driveway.