Smart Snow Shoveling Safety Tips

By Stephanie Watson @YourCareE
October 25, 2023
Smart Snow Shoveling Safety Tips

If you haven’t exercised in a while, consider whether you’re fit enough to lift a shovel. Your heart may be at risk. Learn more about snow shoveling safety tips.

The snow blanketing your sidewalk and driveway needs to be cleared, but you might not be up for the job if you’ve been sedentary all summer. Going from zero to full throttle with one pass of a shovel could be dangerous. 


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Why shoveling snow can be dangerous

Around 11,500 people end up in emergency rooms each year from shoveling-related injuries and illnesses. More than half of the complaints are muscle strains, sprains, bumps, and bruises, along with cuts and fractures. Heart attacks and other heart-related issues make up only 7 percent of emergency room visits, but they cause 100 percent of shoveling-related deaths. Men over age 55 are at particularly high risk of having a heart attack while clearing snow.

Picking up piles of snow puts double strain on your heart.

“Not only is the heart’s workload increased due to shoveling snow, but cold temperatures also add to the chances of a heart attack in at-risk individuals,” says Gary Smith, MD, DrPH, director of the center at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. When the mercury drops, your blood pressure rises, making your heart work harder. Blood clots in your arteries that can cause a heart attack are also more likely to form in cold weather.

People with existing heart disease or risk should ask someone else to clear their driveway and sidewalks. If that’s not an option, get an expert’s advice. “We recommend talking to your doctor before you shovel snow, especially if you do not exercise regularly, have a medical condition, or are in a high-risk group,” Smith advises. 

Snow shoveling safety tips

Safe snow removal starts with buying the right equipment. An ergonomically designed shovel will help you avoid bending or lifting as much. 

Before you dig into the snow, stretch or walk in place for about 5 minutes to warm up. Dress in layers you can shed if you get too warm. The outside layer should be waterproof and weather resistant. Wear rubber boots with slip-resistant soles to prevent a fall.

Get outside early, when the snow is still light and fluffy. Accumulating ice makes snow much heavier. Shovel one section at a time, rather than trying to tackle your entire sidewalk and driveway at once. 

Don’t work until you’re exhausted. Take frequent breaks. Shovel for a few minutes, then go inside to rehydrate. Drink water, not caffeine, which can put extra strain on your heart. 

When you shovel, push the snow out of the way, rather than lifting it. Pushing puts less strain on your heart and back. Another way to protect your back is to bend your legs to power the shovel. 

Always listen to your body. Achiness in your arms or back could be a sign that your muscles are working hard, but it could also warn of a heart attack. Stop what you’re doing right away and call for help if you also have hallmark symptoms like:

  • Chest pain or pressure
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea
  • Sweating
  • Dizziness

Adults aren’t the only ones at risk for a shoveling incident. Kids can get hurt too, most often when they fool around or play with their shovel.

“Shoveling snow can be a great outdoor activity for kids; however, it is important for parents to teach children the correct way to shovel snow and remind them that shovels are not toys,” said Smith, who is also a professor of pediatrics in The Ohio State University College of Medicine.

Always keep an eye on kids while they’re outside.

One big upside to shoveling — aside from the paths it clears — is the exercise it provides. Just a half-hour of scooping snow can burn 250 calories and meet your daily activity requirements.

You can add other forms of fitness to your winter schedule to keep up with exercise recommendations, 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity a week. Walk the mall, do sit-ups and squats in front of your TV, or play basketball at an indoor gym to keep yourself fit. You’ll be in better shape to tackle the snow the next time it piles up. 


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October 25, 2023

Reviewed By:  

Janet O’Dell, RN