Baby, it’s cold outside! While it can be beautiful, the winter weather comes with extra hazards. As the snow falls, many people head outside to shovel, sled or just admire the scenery. It’s important to remember that when you leave the house in freezing temperatures, whether it be to clean off your car or shovel the driveway, you should as prepared so you can avoid preventable risks. Here are some tips on how to brave the elements and stay healthy and safe.
Before you go out, properly prepare yourself for the task at hand.
- Eat some hearty but healthy food so you have the energy to fuel your body.
- Wear proper clothing to prevent hypothermia in both your core and extremities.
- Dress in layers, as you may become warmer as you start using your muscles and your body heats up, so you will be able to shed some outer layers if necessary.
- Make sure your outer layer is waterproof to keep you dry. The risk of you experiencing hypothermia increases if you are wet and cold.
- Wear secure shoes with non-slip treads, as walking on ice can increase your risk of a fall.
While out shoveling:
- Stay hydrated. This is just as important in winter as the summer because even though it is cold, you can still sweat.
- Avoid holding your breath, especially when pushing snow or attempting to lift a shovel filled with snow. Breathe in through your nose before pushing or lifting a shovel then breathe out through your mouth on exertion. Breathing in through your nose or keeping your mouth and nose covered by a scarf will keep the air you inhale warm and moist and can prevent triggering cold-induced bronchospasm and coughing fits.
- Be stable—Give yourself a solid base by keeping your stance the width of your shoulders or wider.
- Move with caution—Walk slowly to avoid an accidental misstep or slip and fall on icy surfaces you didn’t see.
- Keep the amount of snow you pick up light enough for you to lift and move without straining.
- Use proper lifting mechanics. Bend your knees and hips in a good squat technique to crouch down to fill the shovel with snow and use your abdominal core muscles and glutes to be the power for your lift as you straighten your legs, with your arms holding the shovel and coming along for the ride.
- Don’t overuse your spine when bending, arching, or twisting. Instead, take steps once you have picked up the snow to turn your body rather than twisting at the spine.
- To give yourself good leverage when holding the shovel, keep your top and bottom hands apart.
- Push snow like a plow only if it is not too heavy or wet.
- Take frequent and necessary rest breaks. Rest until you gain your breath back and feel your heart rate slow down and then return to your task at hand.
- Be Mindful—Be fully present and engaged in the moment to become aware of your body and the space around you.
And when you are done, don’t just be glad you’re done and stop and flop on the couch! It’s beneficial to cool down, which you can do by talking a slow relaxing stroll around the neighborhood and enjoying the beautiful winter scenery. to let your heart rate come back down to normal and make sure all of the blood you’ve had pumping to your muscles gets put back safely where it belongs. This helps prevent major cardiac events, which, surprisingly, are more likely to happen after you are done and stop quickly, not when you are doing the heavy lifting. So, take that moment to appreciate the winter scene and celebrate the hard work you did and stay healthy.
New York Medical College School of Health Sciences and Practice Doctor of Physical Therapy (D.P.T.) faculty and students collaborated in this article; Jesse Capellaro, PT, DPT, Nikki Gawronski, PT, DPT, GCS, CEEAA, Michael J Majsak, P.T., Ed.D., Susan Ronan, PT, DPT, PCS, Kristina Welsome, MSPT, DPT, OCS, CFMT, MTC, Oluwaseun Cole, D.P.T. Class of 2024, Jacqueline Grant, D.P.T. Class of 2024, Faigie Greenstein, D.P.T. Class of 2023, Marissa Lamoree, D.P.T. Class of 2024