Typical winter conditions that include a little more than an inch of snowfall and chilly temperatures that dip below 20 degrees cause death rates from heart attacks to triple among men 35 to 49 years old. One of the main culprits responsible for this upswing is snow shoveling.
On Tuesday, The Early Show Medical Correspondent Dr. Emily Senay and Bally Total Fitness' Nikki Kimbrough will provide safety tips for those shoveling or soon-to-be snow shovelers.
Kimbrough says snow shoveling is actually demanding on the body. Researchers have found that the energy used to shovel snow is comparable to the amount of energy needed to complete an active round of singles tennis or speed walking at 5 m.p.h.
Heart attacks, back strain and muscle soreness are all by-products of the extensive physical activity involved in the assumingly simple task of snow shoveling.
The good news is 15 minutes of snow shoveling counts as moderate physical activity, according to the 1996 Surgeon General's Report on Physical Activity and Health. Senay says we all should aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity of some kind on most days of the week.
Shoveling, however, can be made more difficult by the weather. Cold air makes it harder to work and breathe, which adds some extra strain on the body. There also is the risk for hypothermia, a decrease in body temperature, if one is not dressed correctly for the weather conditions.
Those most at risk for a heart attack include:
Senay says to consider back safety when shoveling snow. Even if you exercise regularly and are not at risk for heart disease, shoveling improperly could lead to a strained back.
The average shovel loaded with 16 pounds of snow ends up moving 192 pounds of snow if you load your shovel about 12 times a minute. That's almost 2,000 pounds being lifted in just over 10 minutes!
To maintain strong back muscles and reduce post-shoveling back strain and soreness, Kimbrough recommends the following exercises that can be done at home or in the gym.
First, always stretch your arm muscles out then try these exercises to strengthen and condition the back muscles:
- Deltoid Raise: Standing with your feet shoulder width apart, grasp a barbell or dumbbells with an overhand grip. Let the weight hang at arm's length against your upper thigh. Raise the weight straight out in front of you until it is just above shoulder level. Lower the weight to the starting position.
- Lateral-Pull: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Using tubing or resistance bands, hold one end of the band in each hand and raise your arms straight over your head. Press your elbows down slowly to each side, squeezing your shoulder blades together, until your fists are level with your shoulders. Slowly straighten your arms up until they are back to the starting position. If you don't feel resistance when you press your elbows down, adjust the band/tube so there is less slack.
NOTE: Technique is also very important. By maintaining the right posture, you can lighten the workload and stress on your body and also prevent back strain and soreness.
Tips for Safer Shoveling:
- If you are inactive and have a history of heart trouble, talk to your doctor before you take on the task of shoveling snow.
- Avoid caffeine or nicotine before beginning. These are stimulants, which may increase your heart rate and cause your blood vessels to constrict. This places extra stress on the heart.
- Drink plenty of water. Dehydration is just as big an issue in cold winter months as it is in the summer.
- Dress in several layers so you can remove a layer as needed.
- Warm up your muscles before shoveling, by walking for a few minutes or marching in place. Stretch the muscles in your arms and legs, because warm muscles will work more efficiently and be less likely to be injured.
- Pick the right shovel for you. A smaller blade will require you to lift less snow, putting less strain on your body.
- Lift with your legs not your back. Bend your knees and keep your back as straight as possible so that the lifting comes from your leg muscles, not your back. Never bend at the waist. Step in the direction that you are throwing snow. This will help prevent the lower back from twisting and will help alleviate any back soreness that you might typically experience the day after a hard shoveling job.
- Create some distance between the hands. This will give you more leverage and make it easier to lift snow.
- Pick-up smaller loads of snow. It's best to shovel by sections. If you are experiencing snowfall levels of 12-inches or higher, take it easy and shovel 2-inches off at a time.
- Do push. Don't lift. Save your back and your energy by simply pushing the snow to the side instead of lifting the snow and throwing it off to the side.
- Listen to your body. Stop if you feel pain or observe heart attack warning signs. These may include chest pain as well as shoulder, neck or arm pain; dizziness, fainting, sweating or nausea; or shortness of breath. If you think you're having a heart attack, seek medical help immediately.