Heavy Snow = Heavy Load on the Heart

posted Dec 11, 2014, 4:24 PM by Walk Strong Calgary   [ updated Dec 11, 2014, 4:28 PM ]
As our fine Canadian winter takes hold
, throwing snowstorms our way, many of us are on shovel duty. As two cases this week alone have shown, this can mean a high demand on your body's most important muscle - the heart. An Ottawa, Ontario man in his 80's died this morning while shoveling snow, the second person this week to collapse in our nation's Capital (a gentleman in his 70's was rushed to hospital yesterday in cardiac arrest) while going about their normal winter duties. 
Regardless of your age, there are some important things to remember when the snow begins to fall and precautions you can take. First, remember that one of the hardest transitions for the heart is when you go from a resting state, such as sitting on the couch watching TV, to an aerobic state, and shoveling snow qualifies as the latter. Your heart is a muscle, and just like your quads, hamstrings or biceps, it needs to warm up properly and safely. 

Before donning your boots, parka and gloves, take a good five minutes to warm up - walk in
place or from room to room in the house - include a gentle trip or two up and down the stairs, gradually raising your heart rate. Do some gentle squats and lunges - these are movements you'll be doing while shoveling and you're giving your body a rehearsal for what's to come, warming up the muscles and lubricating the joints. Consider it a workout, and we follow the same concept to prepare your body for brisk activity in an exercise class.

Another tip - you don't have to do it all at once! Take frequent breaks, especially when the snow is wet and heavy. Yes, it will take you longer to complete the task, but your heart will thank you. Consider it interval training in a sense - shovel for a few minutes, then walk around for a minute or two. Oh yeah, your neighbors might wonder what you're up to, but let them wonder. 

Avoid back injury by using your leg muscles!  Shoveling is a basic bend and lift move, and many of us don't execute it properly. We tend to flex forward at the hips with little bending at the knee, and lift by hinging at the hips to stand back upright. This puts an extra, unnecessary load on the low back. A proper bend and lift involves flexing at the knees and the hips, and when you lift, utilize your powerful leg muscles, thus easing the load on the lower back. Your core muscles will act as stabilizers throughout the movement - engage your core before you even go into the move initially by drawing your navel in toward your spine, and stack your shoulders above the hips for proper bracing and spinal alignment. The other thing of which to take caution is excessive rotation at the waist/hips with a loaded shovel. Ouch! You can really hurt yourself if you're not careful! 

An easy way to stop the snow from sticking to the shovel is to coat it with cooking spray or car wax... how about the wax you use on your cross-country skis? Give it a try! Anything to make this big job easier!

Don't forget to stretch! As with any physical activity, your muscles need a good stretch when finished. This will improve flexibility and range of motion, and you might just find the task a bit easier after the next snowfall!

Nancy Ehle is a Certified WALK Leader and Group Fitness Instructor. Her company, Witness 4 Fitness, offers fitness programs for all stages of life. Subscribe to our news service to keep up to speed on upcoming events and program offerings!