Praire Fare: The Scoop on Snow Shoveling Safety
By Julie Garden-Robinson, Food and Nutrition Specialist, NDSU Extension Service
When I admired the first large, fluffy snowflakes dancing past my window the other day, I started to get into the holiday spirit. My kids were very excited. While they planned for a family of “snow people” adorning our front yard, my husband and I pondered the piles of snow we’d be clearing from our driveway and steps in coming months.
As we gear up for wintry weather, now’s the time to pause and think about snow removal. The good news is that 15 minutes of snow shoveling counts as moderate physical activity, according to the 1996 Surgeon General’s Report on Physical Activity and Health. That’s half the daily recommendation for physical activity.
Snow shoveling also counts as moderate physical activity for healthy college students according to a North Dakota State University study. So, if you have healthy college-age students home for the holidays, encourage them to meet their daily activity goal by shoveling the sidewalk if it snows.
The bad news is that the number of fatal heart attacks among snow shovelers increases after a heavy snowfall. Snow shoveling increases heart rate and blood pressure. In fact, one study showed that after only a couple of minutes of shoveling, sedentary men’s heart rates rose to levels higher than those normally recommended during aerobic exercise.
Some people should think twice before venturing outside with a shovel. People most at risk of heart attacks are those who already have had a heart attack, those with a history of heart disease, those with high blood pressure or high cholesterol levels and those who smoke.
If you’ve been sedentary, it’s a good idea to consult a health-care provider before taking off to shovel the north 40. For those in the “at risk” group, it might be time to pass the shovel to someone else or hire a service.
Shoveling also can lead to back injuries, so consider the rules of body mechanics. Warm up your muscles by walking around a few minutes. Stand with your feet about hip width for balance and keep the shovel close to your body. Bend from the knees (not the back) and tighten your stomach muscles as you lift the snow. Avoid twisting movements. If you need to move the snow to one side, reposition your feet to face the direction the snow will be going. Listen to your body, and stop if you feel pain.
Drinking a hot cup of coffee may seem like a wise thing to do before venturing into the cold, but it’s not suggested. Caffeine is a stimulant, which increases heart rate and causes blood vessels to constrict. This places stress on the heart, especially when followed by snow shoveling.
Drink plenty of water to stay well hydrated. Dehydration is as great a winter issue as a summer issue. Dress in layers, too. That way, you can peel off a layer without chilling yourself as you work on the last bit of sidewalk.
Here’s a tasty beverage to warm you after cleaning the driveway. Or, better yet, stay inside and prepare spiced cider for those wielding a shovel. I’ll see if this ploy works on my family.
Spiced Cider (Wassail)
2 qt. apple cider
1 tsp. whole cloves
1 tsp. whole allspice
1 3-inch stick cinnamon
1/3 c. sugar
1 orange, sliced into “wheels”
Heat cider, spices and sugar to boiling in large pot. Cover and simmer 20 minutes; strain to remove whole spices. Float orange slices on top. Serve.
Makes 8 1-cup servings. Each serving has 146 calories, 37 grams of carbohydrate and no fat.