It's one of the most dangerous winter chores—so be sure to read this before heading outdoors, shovel in hand.

There are plenty of health risks associated with shoveling snow—broken bones, pulled muscles, and over-exertion, just to name a few—especially for those who aren't regularly physically active. While no activity is without risk, shoveling snow seems to carry an increased chance for injury. According to a study published in the American Journal of Emergency Medicine, this common winter chore results in roughly 11,500 emergency room visits each year; for an estimated 100 Americans, that increased risk leads to death, generally due to a heart attack. Understanding these risks is the first step towards preventing the worst. Here, everything you need to know about staying safe as you shovel.

shovel in fresh snow
Credit: Getty / Art_rich

The Danger

Dr. Sunil Malhotra, the Director of Congenital Cardiac Surgery at Maine Medical Center, affirms that shoveling-induced heart attacks do happen. The reason? Wet snow is especially heavy and requires significant exertion to lift and throw. "This places increased strain on the heart to compensate," Dr. Malhotra explains. "Often, the heart attack victim is also otherwise sedentary and not accustomed to such a significant exercise demand." Additionally, the cold temperatures that accompany snowfall cause blood vessels to constrict—including vessels that supply blood to the heart. "This further exacerbates the stress, increasing the risk of a cardiac event," he adds.

Don't Wait

To reduce your risk, Frank Leloia, the President of Custom Landscaping and Lawncare, suggests a slow and steady method—especially if you're expecting a major storm where snow will fall over a long period of time and accumulate over an inch. "While it may seem like more work, each load you lift will be lighter and less likely to cause injury," he explains of taking multiple trips outside to shovel.

Perfect Your Technique

If you are going to wait until after the storm has passed to shovel, Leloia suggests working on your technique. His advice: Push the snow rather than lift it. This puts less strain on your body (and your heart) while still accomplishing the same goal of moving the snow off of a driveway or sidewalk. And if you do need to pick up a heavy shovel-full of snow? "It's important to protect your back by bending your knees and lifting upwards with your legs," he says, noting that it is important to take plenty of breaks and to use the correct tools. "There are some really great ergonomic shovels on the market today that can make the job easier."

Hire a Pro

If you can afford it, and one is readily available, consider hiring a professional (or a kid offering his or her services in your neighborhood) to clear your driveway and sidewalk. Those who do snow removal for a living are often better equipped for the job and have perfected their technique for snow removal, which means they can do it faster and safer than you likely can.


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