Safe snow shoveling

Now that winter snow has made its way to Pittsburgh, it is important to recognize safe practices for shoveling your snow. Although it can be great exercise, shoveling snow also can pose some serious health risks including sore muscles, lower back pain, exhaustion, and even heart attack.

Here are some tips for clearing your driveway and walkways safely.

Get a head start.

Fresh-fallen powdery snow is much easier to lift than wet packed-down snow. Get started early and keep up with the snowfall throughout the day.

Avoid caffeine and nicotine before shoveling.

These products are stimulants, which may increase your heart rate and cause your blood vessels to constrict, putting more stress on the heart.

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Dress in layers.

As your body starts to heat up, you can shed some of these layers to make yourself more comfortable.

Stretch and warm-up before you begin shoveling.

As with any exercise, getting your muscles loose and warm before you begin shoveling will lessen your chance of injury. We recommend walking or jogging in place, as well as fully stretching your arms, legs, and back.

Pick a shovel that works best for you.

Using a shovel with a smaller blade will be lighter to lift, as well as limit the amount of snow you can pick up. Also look for shovels with curved handles that are designed to take some of the strain off of your back.

Good posture is key.

Stand with your feet hip-width apart, bending at your knees and using your leg muscles as much as possible. Do not bend at your back. Keep the shovel close to your upper body and always avoid twisting or throwing snow over your shoulder. If you need to deposit snow in another direction, reposition your feet first to prevent putting excess stress on your back, which could lead to injury.

Push the snow, don’t lift it.

Pushing is much easier on your back and reduces your risk of injury.

Take frequent breaks.

Stop and rest about every 15 minutes or when your body begins to feel tired. Be sure to stay hydrated and pace yourself.

Don’t overexert yourself.

Listen to your body and rest for a bit if you start to feel fatigued.

Note: Shoveling snow is a physical activity that can place a demand on your heart that can cause serious health concerns. Certain people should not shovel snow and it is important that you speak to your doctor before partaking in this physical activity.

People who should not shovel snow include anyone who:

  • Has previously had a heart attack
  • Has a history of heart disease.
  • Leads a sedentary lifestyle.
  • Smokes.
  • Has high blood pressure or high cholesterol.

Editor's Note: This article was originally published on , and was last reviewed on .

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