The next time you look out your window and see your driveway covered with a thick, white blanket, consider this fact: Shoveling snow or pushing a heavy snow blower is more strenuous than running on a treadmill set at full throttle. For that reason, clearing away several inches of snow is a dandy way to get some first-class exercise — but only if you’re healthy and fit. Otherwise, you could find yourself being rushed to the ER with a heart attack or severe back injury, as tens of thousands of folks are each winter. Even if you are (or think you are) in pretty good shape, following these half-dozen guidelines can literally spell the difference between life and death:
1. Warm up. Do some light exercises and stretches in the house before you head outdoors.
2. Dress for success. Wear warm, slip-resistant boots, and dress in layers, so you can peel one off while you’re working, then put it back on during breaks.
3. Work smart. Whenever possible, push the snow out of the way instead of lifting it. When hoisting is necessary, shovel many light loads instead of fewer heavy ones. And never throw the snow over your shoulder or to the side because the twisting motion can wrench your back. Instead, turn, slowly and gently, so you can toss the load forward. Whenever you do have to hoist a shovelful of snow, bend your knees, and lift with your legs — not with your back.
4. Pace yourself. Take frequent breaks, drink plenty of water, and don’t try to do the whole job in one stint. Especially if you’re not used to exercising or you’ve had previous back problems, shovel (or snow-blow) for five to 10 minutes, then go back inside for 10 to 20 minutes.
5. Forget perfectionism. Don’t try to remove every speck of white from your snow-covered surfaces. Instead, tackle the areas that could pose problems for cars or pedestrians, and let Mother Nature take care of the rest in her own good time.
6. Know when to quit. Head indoors immediately if you feel lightheaded or short of breath, your heart begins to race, your chest starts hurting, or you feel any other alarming physical sensation. And (of course!) if you even suspect that you’re having a heart attack, call 911.