Living in Canada means enjoying an extra activity at home in the winter: snow shovelling! Just like going to the grocery store, cleaning the house or preparing dinner, this activity is part of our day-to-day lives.
We are rarely thrilled to have to get out the shovel, but shovelling snow can bring us a lot of benefits. That is, if it is done safely!
You may not realize it, but snow shovelling is a physical activity! Did you know that shovelling snow for fifteen minutes is like swimming for twenty minutes?
So, like any physical activity, snow shovelling demands preparation and a good technique. Without preparation, there is a risk of injury.
Let’s take a look at snow shovelling, the benefits and some good advice!
The benefits of snow shovelling
It may come as a surprise, but shovelling snow is actually considered a sport. Perhaps not so surprising after all. Do you often end up hot and sweaty after shovelling snow? It’s perfectly normal, as you are basically engaging in a physical activity!
There are different factors to consider when shovellling, such as the size and weight of the shovel, or the type of snow. Wet and heavy snow will require a greater effort than light and loose snow.
Depending on these factors, you will spend different amounts of energy. One thing is certain, like any other sport, snow shovelling has many benefits.
Snow shovelling requires a moderate amount of effort, similar to climbing stairs at a fairly fast pace (between 7 and 8 km/h), while intense snow shovelling is comparable to running at over 9 km/h.
Shovelling snow helps you stay in shape and work many muscles, especially the upper limbs like the back, shoulders and arms.
In addition, as you may have noticed, when you shovel, your heart races. In fact, your cardiovascular system is strongly solicited!
It is important to listen to your body and not to push it too hard. Take it easy! Shovelling is generally not recommended for people with heart problems. If you suffer from a cardiovascular disease, you may want to use a snowblower.
- Strengthening your muscles
It’s all about technique! With proper shovelling technique and regular practice, it goes without saying that you will develop your muscles, just as you would when running or cross-country skiing.
For example, if you make the effort to bend your legs and keep your back straight, you will develop your glutes and lower back muscles.
Also, contracting your abs will help you strengthen your core muscles.
If you do the movements correctly, you will feel the benefits over the course of your sessions. So, what started out as a chore that made you sweat and waste your time, could become a great muscle-building tool!
- Good for your mental health
For this benefit, it all depends on the person who is shovelling. For most people, shovelling is a real chore that they would rather avoid, while for some people, it is an opportunity to get some fresh air and exercise.
Yet, whether you realize it or not, shovelling, like any sustained physical activity, allows the brain to release endorphins. When released by the brain, these hormones produce and increase feelings of well-being, and can reduce symptoms related to stress or anxiety.
So if you get a feeling of pleasure after shovelling your yard, it’s probably largely due to a sense of accomplishment and that the job is done… but not only that!
Finally, in order to maximize the effects and potential benefits of snow shovellling, set aside a time slot so that you are not in a hurry. You’ll have more fun if you have the time than if you rush through it before leaving for work!
Now that we have seen the potential benefits of snow shovellling, let’s look at the best habits to adopt for a safe activity! Indeed, one cannot go without the other!
Our 8 tips for safe home and street shovelling
- Make sure the weather is optimal
Before you grab your shovel and head outside, make sure the weather conditions are right. There’s no point in going out to shovel during a snowstorm or when it is too cold.
On the other hand, if the conditions allow it, it is better to shovel regularly than to wait for the snow to accumulate, which means having a hard time… It is better to shovel smaller quantities of snow as it falls!
Choosing the right outfit is extremely important. You will be cold for the first few minutes outside, and then the energy required to shovel will quickly make you hot. So put on several layers of clothing, to be able to remove them if necessary!
Don’t forget to wear gloves and warm socks to avoid frostbite!
Your muscles are about to work intensively. That’s why a gentle warm-up is highly recommended. This will wake up your muscles, warm them up and prepare them for the physical effort.
Use movements similar to those of the activity you are about to perform. Lumbar flexion and extension exercises may be an option. You can also stretch. Warming up will reduce the risk of injury!
If you know you’ll have to shovel before leaving for work tomorrow morning, schedule your morning accordingly.
Since shovelling is often a chore, people tend to rush to finish as quickly as possible. However, shoveling your car in a hurry is the best way to hurt yourself.
Give yourself enough time, it will only be beneficial to you!
Having the right equipment is just as important! Choosing a shovel that is appropriate for your height and condition will greatly reduce the risk of injury.
The CCOHS recommends a light but sturdy shovel (not exceeding 1.5 kg), with an ergonomic shaft (bent), which has the advantage of limiting the pressure inflicted on your lower back in particular.
Finally, it is important to make sure that the handle is not restrictive for the wrist. A D-shaped handle is recommended. Choose a shovel with a plastic handle, not a metal one.
If you suffer from a cardiovascular disease or if your condition makes it difficult for you to make a major physical effort, choose a sleigh shovel, but be careful not to lift it with snow!
- Adopt a good technique: bend your legs, shovel forward…
You’ve checked the weather forecast, you’ve dressed accordingly, you’ve done your warm-up: you’re ready to shovel! Have you thought about shoveling in pairs? It will be faster, easier, and definitely more fun!
Now that you’re all set, the most complex part remains: the technique.
Keep your feet apart and encourage weight transfer. Be sure to bend your legs, to do flexion and extension movements, while maximizing the movement of your pelvis, using your core muscles and pushing on your thighs. Your back will thank you!
Don’t let your back carry the load: use your arms, which should be shoulder-width apart.
Shovel forward and push the snow instead of lifting it. When moving snow, take a reasonable amount (light shovels), and do not lift the shovel too high. Break up ice blocks to avoid unpleasant surprises.
Your feet should guide the movement and body in the direction you wish to drop the snow. You should avoid twisting and turning your body.
Finally, make sure your breathing is even. Don’t hold your breath during the effort.
Listen to your body. If you feel fatigue or pain coming on, slow down, take a break and/or stop shoveling.
- Take breaks and stay hydrated
There is no need to rush. As we said, shoveling puts a lot of strain on the heart. Taking breaks every 15 minutes or so will keep your body cool and allow you to stretch.
A good way to know when to stop is to pay attention to your breath. If you are having trouble talking and feel short of breath, take a break!
Stay hydrated! Because of the warm feeling inside your body and the cold outside, you may not feel thirsty. However, as with any other physical activity, you must drink enough water to keep your body hydrated!
Snow can fall while you are on the move. To avoid unpleasant surprises, plan ahead and always have a shovel and the necessary equipment on hand!
Why do I be careful when shoveling?
Shoveling may seem like a simple activity (and it is), but it should be done with caution and proper technique.
If you’re not careful, you can easily injure yourself. Not bending your legs, and your back takes the brunt of it! Medical consultations for shoulder pain, neck pain or back pain related to shoveling are not uncommon.
A good shoveling technique coupled with good habits and proper tools will help minimize the risk of injury.
As we said, because of its intensity, shoveling puts a lot of strain on the heart. And the cold doesn’t help either! Working in the cold promotes the contraction of small arteries, which increases the pressure on the heart. So don’t ignore the symptoms or your condition.
The cardiovascular risks associated with shovelling are real. The numbers don’t lie: according to a study published by the Canadian Medical Association Journal, 128,073 hospitalizations and 68,155 deaths related to myocardial infarction were reported for the province of Quebec alone between 1981 and 2014. This condition affects both frail and healthy people.
If you have known cardiovascular problems, talk to your doctor about whether or not shovelling is appropriate for you.
If you suspect that you have pain related to shovelling, or simply want to prevent it, make an appointment with a healthcare professional. An occupational therapy session may be enough to help you learn how to stay safe in your activity.
What to do if your muscles ache after shovelling?
If you have sore or aching muscles after shovelling, don’t panic! This is normal, especially if you don’t do a lot of physical activity.
According to the Association des Chiropraticiens du Québec, 31% of the Canadian population suffers from muscle and joint pain.
If this is your case, give your body a rest. This rest must be partial and not complete, otherwise your joints may become stiff.
You can apply ice or heat if it helps you. Just be careful not to apply either directly on the skin, as it may irritate or burn it. Use a towel to wrap around the ice or heat.
Another option for back pain is self-massage with a tennis ball across the lower back, along with stretching.
Once the pain subsides, you can gradually resume your activities. Follow our advice to go back to shoveling snow!
If the pain persists, make an appointment with an occupational therapist. This discipline will optimize your recovery and help you return to your activity safely.
And voila! You are ready to shovel safely! On your shovels!