Snow shoveling safety tips

Posted on Nov 10, 2014 in Safety Tips

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Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and Blue Care Network recommend that people keep heart health in mind and “take it easy” when clearing driveways and sidewalks.

Here are some facts about shoveling:

  • Snow shoveling is hard work. The good news is that shoveling snow for 15 minutes qualifies as a moderate physical daily activity recommended by the U.S. Surgeon General. The bad news is that for many sedentary, out-of-shape Americans, shoveling heavy, wet snow for 10 minutes is equivalent to running on a treadmill to exhaustion.
  • The cold temperatures don’t help, raising blood pressure in people who don’t normally have a blood pressure problem and posing an even greater risk to people with high blood pressure, according to University of Florida researchers.
  • Several easy steps can prevent illness and injuries while shoveling snow in winter. First, anyone who has one of the following conditions should probably not shovel snow without his or her physician’s permission. The list of conditions includes:
    • A personal or family history of heart disease or asthma
    • Already sustained a heart attack
    • A history of back problems
    • High blood pressure
    • High cholesterol level
    • A history of smoking
    • A history of inactivity

For healthy, active individuals, the Michigan Blues suggest the following guidelines:

  • Use the right shovel. Shovels with S-shaped handles and non-stick blade surfaces will usually require less effort and minimal bending to move snow. Or, consider pulling the snow out of the way, which requires less exertion.
  • Avoid stimulants (for example, caffeine and nicotine) that can raise your heart rate and restrict blood vessels. Avoid shoveling immediately after having eaten a large meal.
  • Warm up and stretch muscles before shoveling, especially in the morning. Muscles are less susceptible to injury during physical activity after a warm-up.
  • Drink plenty of fluids before and during shoveling to avoid dehydration, but not coffee (see above). Breathing cold air dehydrates the body.
  • Dress in layers. Wear a scarf or mask and/or goggles. Inhaling cold air may constrict arteries, decreasing your heart’s oxygen supply.
  • Start slowly to avoid a sudden load on the heart. An average snow shovelful of heavy, wet snow weighs up to 16 pounds. That means for every 10 minutes of typical shoveling, you’ll be clearing up to 2,000 pounds of white stuff. To lift snow, bend from the knees. Remove heavy snow in two stages. First, skim off the top layer, and then remove the bottom. If snow is too heavy to lift, push it out of the way. Take frequent breaks as needed.
  • Immediately stop if you feel pain or discomfort. No one knows your body as well as you do.
  • If you have a lot to shovel, consider hiring a removal service.
  • If using a snow blower, follow safety precautions completely. Never attempt to clear a clogged or stuck blade or auger before shutting off the power, and avoid wearing objects that can easily get caught in the blade, such as a long scarf. Before starting, be sure children and others stand clear to avoid being injured by hidden objects thrown into the air. Even using a snow blower will elevate heart rates, so consult your doctor if you have a history of heart problems.