Friday, April 18, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Shovel Fit

Scooping snow can be an excellent workout for both cardiovascular and muscular health

You’re shaping your biceps, defining your quadriceps and breaking a sweat, and you don’t have to make a trip to the gym. If you live in a snow belt you have Mother Nature to thank for your workout.

“It [snow shoveling] can be a very good exercise because of the intensity,” says Stephen Herrmann, a doctoral student specializing in physical activity, nutrition and wellness, at the Healthy Lifestyles Research Center, Arizona State University Polytechnic, Mesa. In fact, shoveling can be comparable to jogging, racquetball, a rowing machine or stationary bicycle for physical activity, says Herrmann, who looks at the energy expended in various physical activities.

And that’s why you should treat shoveling as an exercise, and take the same precautions to protect your health as you burn calories and build muscle. If you’re out of shape talk to your physician before you take on the task of shoveling, as you would any vigorous exercise, Herrmann advises.

Here are tips from experts on what to do and what to avoid when shoveling snow:

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  • • Warm up your muscles before you head out with the shovel.

     “Take a couple of minutes to move around; walk back and forth, up and down the stairs,” says Kay A. Scanlon, assistant professor of physical therapy at the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia. (However, she doesn’t suggest doing stretches to prevent injuries.)

    • Pace yourself.

    You can tax your body if you’re racing to clear the driveway and get to work. Instead, move at a steady rate and break occasionally, especially if you feel dizzy or thirsty. If you have difficulty talking while you’re working, it’s a sign to stop for a while, says Scanlon, a spokesperson for the American Physical Therapy Association.

    As part of pacing, don’t lift more weight on a shovel than you would in a gym. Each shovelful can weigh 10 to15 pounds, maybe more with a heavy, wet snow. Take smaller scoops so you don’t strain, say the experts.

    • Avoid the scoop and twist.

    That common action in which you fill your shovel, twist to the side and throw the snow can be terrible for your back, according to Herrmann. Lift with your legs, facing the direction in which you want the snow to land.

    • Look on the bright side.

    You should be getting 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic exercise a week and in addition muscle-strengthening activities twice a week, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Snow shoveling contributes to that goal.

    • Cooling down.

    A deep, plush couch beckons once you’ve finished snow shoveling. Resist the urge.

    “If you sit on the couch, slumped after shoveling, you do more damage to your back,” Scanlon says. You’ve been bending forward while shoveling, now bend backward (for a few seconds) or lie on the floor for a short time after shoveling. “You remove pain by doing the opposite movement.”

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