Shoveling Snow: Do It Safely With These 10 Tips

Jalesa Campbell
Updated Mar 2, 2021
2 min read
Shoveling snow is no light task from a physical and health perspective.

A person weighing 155 lbs can burn about 223 calories for every 30 minutes they spend shoveling snow (Harvard Health Publishing). The calories burned shoveling snow demonstrates how strenuous the activity can be. The Cleveland Clinic also says that shoveling snow is the equivalent of someone performing at “‘peak exercise’ on a stress test.”

It’s easy to see how taxing the activity is; however, it is a necessary one for those living in places where snowfall is more common. That’s why it’s important to shovel snow safely.

Why Can Shoveling Snow Be Dangerous?

While the activity is simple, it can pose a risk to one’s health, especially their heart. According toBBC News, about 100 people die each year in the U.S. while they’re shoveling snow. The danger comes in when those who go out to shovel snow are not typically physically active. And since many people tend to shovel snow in the mornings, this is a time when our circadian rhythms can make it more dangerous and put people at risk for a heart attack (BBC News).

Additionally, the cold air can cause one’s blood pressure to rise and blood vessels to constrict, making the heart work harder to move blood throughout the body. And whenever the heart is not able to get oxygen, that leads to tissue shutting down and a potential heart attack.

Those who may live more sedentary lives, have a history of heart problems, or are older may want to avoid shoveling snow and can consider asking a young person to help or purchase a snow blower.

Is It Better to Use a Snow Blower?

Using a snow blower is another option to lighten the load, but it’s also an investment. Your health, where you live, the weather, and the landscaping of your yard are all factors to consider before buying a snow blower. For instance, if you have a small driveway and a smaller yard, you or someone else may be able to clear the snow without needing a snow blower.

Additionally when considering one, you would need to decide on the right stage and powering mechanism for your needs. Could you clear the yard with a corded, electric snow blower, or will you need a gas-powered snow blower because you have a bigger yard? If you do want to cut down on the strenuous work of hand-shoveling, buying a snow blower is definitely an option to consider.

What if I Suspect I’m Having a Heart Attack?

Common signs of a heart attack include pain in the center of the chest, difficulty breathing, cold sweats, and discomfort in arms or other parts of your upper body (American Heart Association). If you experience any of these symptoms while you’re shoveling snow or afterwards, call 911 immediately to get help.

10 Snow Shoveling Tips

1. Stretch and warm up your muscles before shoveling

Just as it’s important to stretch and warm up before exercising, the same applies when shoveling snow. You’re helping to prepare your body for strenuous activity rather than sending it into shock by jumping straight into it.

2. Dress warmly in layers

Before going out, make sure you dress in layers so that you can remove articles of clothing if you get too hot. 

3. Wear boots with a good grip

To avoid slipping and falling, wear boots or shoes that provide great traction while you’re walking around.

4. Wax or grease your shovel before your start

This will help the snow to slide off more freely and avoid sticking to the shovel. You can use something as simple as cooking spray or even floor wax to grease the shovel.

5. Shovel light loads

If you have accumulations of a foot or more, consider moving several to six inches of snow first rather than trying to clear the snow from the ground. This will help to ease strain.

6. Try pushing the snow rather than lifting it

To avoid more strain, consider pushing the snow to move it rather than lifting. If you need to lift and move the snow, remember to bend your knees before lifting. Try to avoid bending your back to help prevent aching.

7. Clear a path to your car or driveway

Instead of walking over the snow out to your car or driveway, go ahead and clear yourself a path. One of the benefits of this is that you won’t have to deal with packed down snow which is harder to move.

8. Try to stay ahead of accumulation

If it’s possible to go out and move some of the snow while it's falling, try to get a head start to avoid dealing with greater accumulation. Don’t aim to remove all of the snow; instead, try to remove a couple of inches for your first round and then come back later to remove more.

9. Watch out for traffic

If you’re going to be shoveling near the edge of your driveway or road, make sure you’re looking and listening for traffic. 

10. Take breaks and stay hydrated

While it’s easy to get caught up in getting the job done, don’t forget to take breaks and stay hydrated. Consider taking a break every 30 minutes and getting some water before going back outside.

Photos by SpeedKingz / RomanR / Shutterstock


Safety and Security Reporter

Jalesa Campbell

Jalesa is one of Safety.com's staff experts on home security, natural disasters, public safety, and family safety. She's been featured on Today.com and elsewhere.

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