Grab a shovel, save money, and get some exercise—not so fast. It’s unlikely we have to tell you that shoveling snow can be risky to your health. About 11,500 people end up in the hospital (mostly back injuries, heart attacks). A smaller number, about 100, becomes the guest of honor at a funeral home. All because the person thought clearing the sidewalk was no big deal. It is a huge deal, especially if you’re over 40, have any chronic disease, or are somewhat sedentary (like you sit at a desk 40 hours a week). It’s not just the physical exertion. You can and should take smaller loads and move slowly, resting periodically. But the cold weather naturally constricts your blood vessels, as they work to try to keep your body warm. And what happens when blood vessels constrict? Your blood pressure goes up. Even snow blowing can be risky (it’s not as easy as it looks).
Frankly, many qualified people are happy to earn a few extra dollars to shovel sidewalks and plow driveways. Fees are not unreasonable for the task at hand, especially for plowing driveways. If you’re insistent, though, discuss your risks with your doctor before you take on the task. If you get the green light, do warm-up exercises and stretches before you begin (walk briskly around your house for five to 10 minutes; gently stretch your arms up, down, and around; rotate your back from the left to the right and from the right to the left; stretch your neck). Dress warmly, wearing a hat, slip-resistant boots, and mittens, which are generally warmer than gloves. If it’s a large job, complete it in several parts with the rest inside between sessions.
The National Safety Council recommends these tips for shoveling:
Do not shovel after eating or while smoking.
Do not work to the point of exhaustion.
Use a small shovel or only partially fill the shovel.
Know the signs immediately and call 911.
Lift with your legs, not your back.
Push the snow rather than lifting it.
Shovel only fresh, powdery snow.
Take it slow and stretch your muscles before you begin.
The signs of a heart attack, according to the American Heart Association:
Discomfort in the chest center that lasts more than a few minutes or that goes away and comes back.
Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw, or stomach.
Shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort.
You also may break out in a cold sweat or experience nausea or lightheadedness.
Posted on January 15, 2021
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