Every winter people hurt themselves shoveling snow, ranging from minor aches and pulled muscles to fatal heart attacks.
What people often fail to realize is that shoveling is more than just a chore. It puts a lot of stress on the body in a short period of time.
"People don't understand when you start shoveling snow, it's like picking up weights," says Denis Isrow, a North Dakota State University professor of health, physical education and recreation.
So if you're older or out of shape, there's much more of a chance of hurting yourself by shoveling. Even people who regularly exercise can find shoveling to be strenuous if they try to tackle the job quickly without taking breaks.
"One of the biggest problems we have is people saying 'I'm not going to quit until I get this done,'" Isrow says.
Some signs you should stop shoveling are shortness of breath, heavy sweating or any kind of pain.
"Anything that's not normal is a warning sign," he says.
Most at risk
Julie Garden-Robinson prepared a report for the university's extension service warning that shoveling causes a quick increase in the heart rate and blood pressure.
According to her report, those most at risk during shoveling are people who have had a heart attack, people with a history of heart disease, those with high blood pressure or high cholesterol levels, smokers and people who lead a sedentary lifestyle.
Garden-Robinson and Isrow give several tips for safe shoveling.
- Use a smaller shovel
- Make sure your shovel isn't bent, tilting or otherwise damaged
- Take frequent breaks, even if only for a couple of minutes
- Stop and go inside if you become overheated
- Drink fluids
- Don't try to fling snow long distances
- Stop any time you feel pain
If you fear you're unable to tackle this tiring task, look into spending a few bucks and having a neighborhood kid shovel after a storm; or having a contractor plow it when heavy snow falls. It's probably money well spent.