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Ask an Expert – Frosty fitness: Tips for safe snow shoveling and winter walking

By Gabriela Murza, Utah State University Extension Health and Wellness - | Jan 24, 2024

Winter is here, snow is falling, and temperatures are dropping

Winter is here, snow is falling, and temperatures are dropping. These conditions can be challenging as we walk in the slippery outdoors and clear away mounds of snow. Consider these tips to keep safe and injury-free.

Shoveling snow

  • Use your legs rather than your back and shoulders to do the bulk of the lifting.
  • Start shoveling from the top of the snow pile. Place smaller amounts of snow on the shovel rather than big chunks. Your back will thank you!
  • Stand wide with your front foot facing toward the part you’re shoveling. Place the back foot at a 90-degree angle, slightly offset, to help you maintain balance.
  • Bend your knees slightly rather than locking or stiffening them. This will help you move more easily and assist you with balance.
  • Bend your knees and squat gently using your legs rather than hunching over and putting all the strain on your back. You will still use your back, but not as much.
  • Straighten your legs until you’re standing when you get the snow on the shovel.
  • Pivot your entire body rather than twisting your back when removing snow from the shovel. Step with both feet so they move with you as you turn.
  • For more snow shoveling tips, see the USU Extension video, Snow Shoveling Ergonomics.

Walking on snow and ice

  • Walk like a penguin when you walk on snow and ice! It may feel odd, but if you walk flat-footed and take shorter, lighter steps, your feet will cover more surface area and provide better balance and support if you step on icy patches.
  • Keep your knees slightly bent and loose.
  • Watch where you are going. Look ahead rather than at your phone or in your bag.
  • Consider using a bag or backpack that can be placed on both shoulders and held close to the body so it doesn’t cause you to be off balance.
  • Keep your hands at your sides and empty rather than in your pockets. This helps with balance, and you can catch yourself easier if you fall.
  • If you feel yourself falling, it may be best to let it happen and try to control how you go down.
  • If you slip and fall backward, try to catch yourself with your forearms or lie on your back with extended arms, working to protect your head from hitting the ground. Catching yourself with your wrists or falling on your tailbone can cause serious injury. By using your forearms or whole body, you create more surface area to distribute the effects of the fall.
  • If you fall forward – again, try to catch yourself with your forearms rather than your wrists.
  • Avoid shady spots, such as parking areas and driveways, as they will be icy.
  • Be aware that fresh snow may have a layer of “old” snow underneath that is packed and iced over.
  • Be especially cautious when walking in the early mornings or late evenings when it’s dark and cold.

For more information on walking in the slippery outdoors, see the USU Extension video, Walk Like a Penguin.


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