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"Snowmageddon" - Are you prepared & fit enough to shovel your way out

"Snowmageddon" - it's the term I heard the weather lady say yesterday describing the storm that's coming into Toronto & the GTA tomorrow. Yikes! Hopefully, some of you have snowblowers to help dig out, but if you don't shoveling is a great exercise, but beware, it's much more taxing on your body that you probably even realize. In fact, you have an increased risk of a heart attack while you're shoveling.

Here are some tips for those of you preparing for "Snowmageddon":

1. Individuals with heart conditions or those who are relatively inactive should be especially careful. Please consult your doctor.

2. Choose a snow shovel that is right for you!
  • Be sure that your shovel has a curved handle, as this enables you to keep your back straighter when shovelling.
  • Obtain a shovel with an appropriate handle length. The length is correct when you can slightly bend your knees, flex your back 10 degrees or less, and hold the shovel comfortably in your hands at the start of the shovelling stroke.
  • Plastic shovel blades are lighter than a metal ones, thus putting less strain on your spine.
  • Sometimes, a smaller blade is better than a larger blade. Although a small blade can't shovel as much, it avoids the risk of trying to pick up a too heavy pile of snow with a larger blade.

3. Warm up your muscles before you start shovelling. You are more likely to get a sprain or a strain with cold, tight muscles than with warm, relaxed muscles.

4. Please take it slow! Shovelling can be quite strenuous, much like lifting weights. It can raise your heart rate and blood pressure dramatically, so pace yourself. Be sure to warm up before you start.

5. If you experience pain of any kind, stop immediately and seek assistance.

6. Freshly fallen, powdery snow is easier to shovel than the wet, packed-down variety.

7. Push the snow as you shovel. It puts less strain on your back than lifting.

8. Shovelling technique is very important. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons recommends: "If you must lift the snow, lift it properly. Squat with your legs apart, knees bent and back straight. Lift with your legs. Do not bend at the waist. Scoop small amounts of snow into the shovel and walk to where you want to dump it. Holding a shovel of snow with your arms outstretched puts too much weight on your spine. Never remove deep snow all at once; do it piecemeal. Shovel an inch or two; then take another inch off. Rest and repeat if necessary." Remember to move your feet rather than twisting!

9. Never throw snow over your shoulder.

10. Pace yourself. Take frequent breaks to stretch your back, arms and legs.

11. Remember to dress warmly and that extremities, such as the nose, ears, hands and feet, need extra protection.

Yours in health,

Ian Koo, ND
Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine

Naturopathic Essentials Health Centre
"The care you want, the health you need"

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