Safe Shoveling Tips

November 23, 2018

Shoveling, not typically at the top of any Canadian’s winter to do list….


Especially since picking up a shovel and moving hundreds of pounds of snow, particularly if you've been living a relatively sedentary lifestyle for several months, is a massive stressor on the body, putting a large strain on your joints, muscles and cardiovascular system.


But consider this...shoveling is also a fantastic opportunity to incorporate more natural movement into your day over the winter months. It forces you to get up and move outdoors. 



So before you decide to pay your teenage neighbour to shovel for you this season, consider the health benefits that can come from shoveling too.


  • You’re challenging your body’s cardiovascular system, improving the health of your heart and circulatory system

  • You’re mobilizing the joints of your shoulders, spine, hips and knees

  • You’re improving muscular strength and flexibility


But you can do more harm than good if you aren’t shoveling correctly, so please make sure you’re following these 6 safe shoveling tips. 


1. Move your body, even lightly around the house, for at least 30 minutes before shoveling. Avoid rushing outside 5 minutes after waking up. Your body hasn’t been given enough time to properly warm up.


2. Choose the right type of shovel. Opt for a light, non-stick, ergonomically correct model (curved handle) since it will require you to lift less snow. I’ve never tried this, but you could even spray the blade with a silicone-based lubricant so the snow slides off more easily.


3. Push as much snow as you can, rather than lifting and throwing it. If you do need to lift your shovel during heavy snow accumulation, try only partially filling the shovel and avoid twisting or turning when you throw. Position yourself in the direction you’re throwing the snow.


4. Quit bending your body like a cashew. Most of us shovel by bending at the waist, slouching over, and rounding our backs. This puts unnecessary stress on the joints and discs of your lumbar spine which leads to pain and muscles spasms. Instead, hinge at the hips (when in doubt, stick your butt out!), maintaining a neutral position in your spine, allowing your hips and legs to support your weight instead of your low back.


5. If possible, avoid one large shoveling haul and instead shovel fresh, powdery snow (it’s much lighter) periodically. Opt to shovel smaller amounts every few hours instead of all of it at the end of the day or next morning.


6. Be aware of your elements. Intermittent thaws and subsequent freezing can lead to ice build up underneath that thick layer of snow, which can result in a nasty slip or fall.


I hope you found these strategies helpful next time you shovel. And as always, make it a great week...


-Dr. Jenna




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