Health and Wellness

Everybody dreams of a white Christmas -- until remembering that somebody has to shovel it. Follow a few tips to help stay safe while clearing your driveways and sidewalks this winter.

Freshly fallen snow blanketing the ground is a beautiful sight until you remember that someone has to go out and shovel the walkway. Shoveling snow can be a literal pain, causing back injuries and sore muscles.

Removing the snow is a chore that has to be done to keep pathways clear and safe, but it is important to take precautions to prevent injury.

Here are a few ways you can stay safe while removing snow from your home:

Lift with your legs

Snow can be a lot heavier than you expect — if you aren’t careful, you can walk away from shoveling with some painful muscles. Stretch before you start shoveling and take the load off your back when possible. Push the snow rather than lifting it and don’t throw snow over your shoulder. Find a snow shovel that is the right size for you and will do more of the work for you.

“Practicing safe lifting is crucial to prevent injury, whether you are hefting barbells or shoveling snow,” says Sarah Hilton, a registered nurse. “Protect your back by lifting the snow properly and not moving too much all at once. Use your legs to lift the weight and avoid twisting while holding a heavy load.”

Never reach into a snowblower

If you opt to skip the show shovel entirely, make sure you stay safe around your snowblower. Never reach inside a snowblower, even when it is turned off, or you might find yourself with fewer fingers. Instead, use a small shovel or sticks to loosen up any clogged snow. If you have a snowblower that runs on gas, fill the tank up before you get started and do not refill the gas while the snowblower is on. A gas snowblower also puts out carbon monoxide from its exhaust, so use caution and watch for any signs of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Don’t move snow into streets

Be a good neighbor while you are clearing snow at your home and don’t move snow to places where it can be a hazard. Snow plows that come through your neighborhood may push snow into your driveway, but don’t return the favor and move that snow back to the street. Putting your snow into the street can be a hazard for cars. Pile the snow up on your lawn and give it some extra water to keep it healthy.

Take it slow

Back pain is an obvious side effect that snow removal can cause, but many people might not be aware of the danger this chore can have on their heart. Shoveling snow can cause heart attacks, contributing to more than 1,600 deaths each year. The risk of a heart attack is especially high for people who are not physically active. Cold weather can make a person’s blood pressure go up and increases the risk of blood clotting. This, combined with the exertion of shoveling snow, can lead to a heart attack. Warm up before shoveling, take frequent breaks, and don’t over exert yourself to help lower your risk of a heart attack.

With the right safety measures, clearing the snow at your home can be a safe activity, and you can still enjoy the snow. Just remember to not push yourself too hard, and if you opt for a snowblower, keep your extremities away from the blades so they can remain intact. You want to be in good enough health to enjoy the good weather once spring comes again.

Dr. Amy Osmond Cook is a healthcare technology consultant and VP of marketing at Simplus.

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