Take Steps for Safe Snow Removal

Photo by clconroy courtesy of morguefile.com

“Oh, I think I will use a shovel,” I said, apprehensively staring at the snow blower after a blizzard several years ago. My husband had just had surgery, so I was in charge of snow removal.

“It will take you two hours to dig out this driveway with a shovel. Oh, I think I will do it myself,” my husband said, slightly exasperated and leaning on a cane.

“No, you won’t be going outside and blowing snow. You had your hip replaced less than two weeks ago! OK, show me how to use this thing,” I declared.

Since the outside thermometer registered minus 10 degrees, I wanted to get this over with as soon as possible.

“You can do this. You have operated equipment in the past. Just shift it to low speed and let it do the work for you. Watch where you have the chute pointed or you will get a face full of snow. Move it according to the direction of the wind,” my husband said, trying his best to be patient.

Within five minutes, I was bundled up with only my eyes showing and breaking through 3-foot drifts. I felt powerful commandeering a machine that throws snow 10 feet away.

Our then 13-year-old son did the trim work with a shovel and located the sidewalks for me.

At first, I chugged along with the snow blower set on “turtle” speed, but I shifted to “rabbit” speed as I became more confident. After blasting myself in the face with snow twice, I learned my lesson about the chute.

Then I walked the snow blower over to our neighbors’ house and cleared their driveway, too.

Winter is definitely here, so this is a good time to review some winter snow removal tips, whether you use a snow blower or a shovel. Proceed with caution with winter activities and follow your health-care provider’s advice, especially if you have a history of heart disease.

Researchers have reported an increase in the number of fatal heart attacks among snow shovelers after heavy snowfalls. In one study, after only two minutes of shoveling, sedentary men’s heart rates rose to levels higher than those normally recommended during aerobic exercise.

By lifting correctly, you also can avoid injuring your back. Pick the right shovel for you. A smaller blade will require you to lift less snow but put less strain on your body.

Lift correctly by standing with your feet about hip width apart 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.

Remember these tips, too, as you prepare for the cold times ahead:

  • Warm up your muscles before going outside to shovel. Walk for a few minutes or march in place. Stretch the muscles in your arms and legs because warm muscles will work more efficiently and be less likely to be injured.
  • Stay warm by dressing in several layers. To hold in body heat, try wool or polypropylene instead of cotton as the inner layer.  Your outer layer should be wind resistant and tightly woven.
  • Avoid caffeine or nicotine before beginning. These are stimulants, which may increase your heart rate and cause your blood vessels to constrict, placing extra stress on the heart.
  • Drink plenty of water. Dehydration is just as big an issue in cold winter months as it is in the summer.

For a break, you might want to warm yourself with a cup of spiced tea made from this drink mix recipe. As we move into the new year, check out our new online materials for the “Nourishing Boomers and Beyond” program at www.ndsu.edu/boomers.

Hot-spiced Tea

2 c. orange instant breakfast drink mix (such as Tang)
1 c. sugar
1/2 c. instant tea, unsweetened
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/3 tsp. ground cloves

Mix well. Store in tightly closed container. Add 3 teaspoons to 1 cup hot water (or to taste) and enjoy.

Makes about 56 servings. Each serving has 42 calories, 11 grams carbohydrate, no fat and about 30 percent of the daily recommendation for vitamin C.

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