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Tips for Shoveling Snow Safely

A winter wonderland may look beautiful but shoveling all that snow is no easy task. In fact, the CDC reports that Harvard Medical School found shoveling snow for just 30 minutes burns 266 calories, similar to other strenuous exercises. Before you grab your shovel this winter, these are some tips to keep in mind to reduce the risk for injury and back pain.

Person shoveling snow.

Prep before the snowfall. Keep an eye on the weather forecast and salt your walkways and driveway before snowfall begins. Doing so can help improve grip, reduce slippage, and increase the snow's melting point — three things that will make shoveling snow a bit easier.

Wax your shovel before use. Use a shovel with a thin, plastic blade — this weighs less than a metal blade and will be easier to lift repeatedly. Apply a thin layer of car wax or floor wax to your shovel. This will help the snow slip off easily and quickly. When possible, try to push the snow off a pathway or driveway rather than having to lift and toss the snow.

Use the right form. Shoveling hundreds of pounds of snow and slush can put a serious strain on your back. To reduce the risk of injury and pain, practice proper form: Stand with your feet hip-width apart for good balance, bend at the knees and lift from your legs. As you lift, keep the shovel blade close to your body, which reduces back strain. If necessary, turn your entire body rather than twisting from the waist, which can aggravate back pain. Take a break from shoveling every 10-15 minutes to stand up straight and stretch your body.

Dress in warm layers. Like any outdoor activity in the winter, layers are key to keeping your body comfortably protected from the elements without overheating. Opt for a moisture-wicking base layer followed by a lightweight fleece or wool mid-layer. Finish with a waterproof, windproof exterior layer that can be removed if you start to overheat. Wear wool socks rather than cotton socks. Cotton becomes damp quickly and dries slowly, increasing the risk for blisters on your feet.

Shovel smartly. Assess the conditions before getting started. Thick, wet snow can be heavier to lift, for example, and more than six inches of snow can be difficult to clear off the ground in a single scoop. If the snow is deep or dense, shovel off a top layer first and then go back to clear all the way to the ground.

Start early and take it slow. Don't wait until a big storm is done dumping 2+ feet of snow on the ground to start shoveling. If conditions allow, shovel midday during a snowfall, even if more snow is expected in the evening or overnight. Clearing lighter snow in smaller increments, rather than one long stretch, reduces the risk for over-exertion.

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