Thursday, February 13, 2014

Shoveling Snow

Well, apparently winter is not over yet. Looking out my window this morning, I see we have at least a foot of the hideous white stuff. And it is still coming down. Hard. (Sigh.)

Usually my snow shoveling strategy is simple: don't. If you can avoid it, you should. Yes, I am lazy. This is certainly a factor in my snow-shoveling avoidance. But if you are over 50, rarely exert yourself, and then decide to go out in below-freezing temperatures, to lift heavy weights, repeatedly, for long stretches of time, you are asking for trouble.



However, if you MUST shovel snow, here are a few suggestions for making this activity a bit safer:

1) Begin your adventure well-hydrated. This is often forgotten or ignored during winter activities. But you will surely sweat as you shovel. Even slight dehydration taxes the heart, all the organs, the muscles, and the brain. Please don't skip this part!

2) Warm up first. Don't head out into the driveway with cold muscles and ask them to perform heavy lifting. Before you go out there, warm your body up with some brisk walking, knee lifts, jumping jacks, marching in place, jogging up and down your staircase, whatever you like. Do this for at least 5 minutes.

3) Stretch gently. Reach your arms overhead. Twist at your waist from side to side. Lunge by reaching one foot back behind you. Switch sides. Do a few squats. Circle your shoulders. Make sure you have moved and stretched your body in all directions. Your joints should NOT hurt while you do this. If your knees, hips, shoulders, and/or spine are/is already hurting, shoveling snow is likely to cause MORE pain. If not a serious injury.

4) If possible, use your shovel to PUSH snow across your driveway rather than lifting and throwing snow. I realize that this is often not possible. So if you HAVE to lift the snow, see Step 5.

5) Bend your knees! Any time you are lifting anything heavy, the goal is to use your leg strength rather than your back. Try to keep your back FLAT instead of curved or rounded. Keep your abdominal muscles engaged the entire time you are lifting! (This is crucial.) Scoop the snow with bent knees, then straighten the legs to lift. Keep your feet apart. A wider stance is more stable and less stressful on your back.

6) Avoid twisting or rotating through the spine. Yes, your amazing spine is designed to perform all kinds of movements. But combining heavy lifting with twisting is a recipe for immense pain and probable injury. Scoop the snow up onto your shovel (not too much at a time!) and then turn your entire body, including your hips, as ONE UNIT before dumping the snow off your shovel. (This is also crucial.) Do NOT plant your feet and twist from the waist to throw snow to the side.

6) Watch the clock. If you regularly work out for 20 minutes, shovel for about 20 minutes and then take a break. Do not assume you can keep going for as long as it takes! Stop every 10-20 minutes, put your shovel down, and stretch your back, legs, shoulders, everything that's aching. Taking good care of your body is smart. Not wimpy.

7) Ask for help. This is also smart and not wimpy. Many hands makes the load lighter. Don't be a snow-shoveling martyr. Let your whole family takes turns, or shovel together. Try not to yell at each other or expect shoveling perfection. Stress is another factor almost always present at the onset of back injuries. The more relaxed and positive you can remain, the better for your back. Not to mention your heart. And your relationships.

8) Celebrate your snow-shoveling success with a delicious warm beverage. Try hot cocoa, warm coconut milk with turmeric, hot chai, or your favorite winter treat.

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