How to Not Break Your Back Digging Out of This Storm

Shoveling is a calorie-torching workout comes with a high risk of injuries

The sloppy snowstorm that pummelled the midwest yesterday is headed straight for the east coast -- which means it's time to pull out the shovels.

Though shoveling snow is by no means my favorite winter activity, there is an upside to the dreaded task. Namely, it counts towards our 30 minutes of daily aerobic exercise. And with all of the snow we’ve been getting this winter, who even needs the gym? Shoveling snow qualifies as a moderate to difficult workout -- the heavier and wetter the snow, the bigger the burn. Digging out from the storm can burn up to 400 calories an hour. That’s practically how many calories you would torch during an hour-long spin class. No wonder it’s so exhausting!

But like any hardcore workout, shoveling snow can be hazardous to your health -- especially if you’re not used to strenuous activity. If you break a sweat getting out of your recliner or walking up a flight of stairs, you probably wouldn’t jump right in to an advanced step-aerobics class. Likewise, you should ease into shoveling by following a few precautions to avoid injury.

To life-long New Englanders who are blizzard veterans, we realize it probably sounds namby-pamby to have to ask your doctor for permission to shovel snow. But as you get older, your risk for injury -- or even death -- increases. A study in the American Journal of Emergency Medicine found that 11,500 people are sent to the emergency room each winter for shoveling-related injuries. The most serious of which is a heart attack.

According to ABC News, heart attack rates jump by 20 percent in the week following snowstorms. Cold weather constricts blood vessels, which ups your heart rate and blood pressure. When bloodways become narrowed from the cold, your heart has to work harder to pump blood throughout your body. It can interrupt blood flow to the heart and make blood more likely to clot. Add intense exertion in the form of shoveling or pushing a heavy snowblower to the mix, and your heart may not be able to keep up with the demand. Put all of these factors together, and you’ve got the perfect storm for a heart attack. So if you have heart disease, or are at risk of it, consult your doctor before digging out. Find out your heart attack risk now.

Besides heart attacks, or myocardial infarctions in med-speak, other shoveling related injuries include pulled muscles, strained backs and ruptured or herniated discs. Though you should let your physical fitness determine how much or how quickly you shovel, everyone should follow these safe-shoveling techniques:

1. Before going outside, warm up by jogging or marching in place or doing jumping jacks.

2. Stay well-hydrated: Dehydration during physical activity can amp up your heart rate.

3. Keep your body warm and well-insulated. Wear boots with good traction to reduce your risk of falling.

4. As much as possible, push snow to the side instead of lifting it.

5. Practice safe lifting by bending at the knees and keeping your upper body straight.

6. Avoid twisting your torso. Instead of hoisting the snow over your shoulder, walk your shovel full of snow over to where you want to dump it and release.

7. If there is any question about your health or physical fitness, hire someone else to do it.

Even though I hated shoveling as a kid, I loved coming inside, peeling off the wet layers of clothes and sitting by the wood stove, sipping hot chocolate, preferably with as much Cool Whip and/or Fluff as I could fit into my mug. Which brings us to one more hazard of shoveling snow: Rewarding yourself for your workout with a drink that has more calories than you just burned. We don’t want to be complete buzzkills here, so if you want it, you should splurge, sans the whipped cream, of course. After all, milk is a great post-workout drink, and cocoa has gobs of heart-healthy antioxidants. Just remember that, if you’re on a diet, you’ll have to cut calories elsewhere during the day to see your scale go down. Dial down your guilt and your calorie consumption with this 115-calorie recipe for Dark and Spicy Mexican Hot Chocolate.

Have you ever injured yourself shoveling snow? Chime in below!

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