A Storm is Coming! (again…)
With the significant increase in snowfall we’ve been dealing with this winter, it’s no surprise there has likewise been a spike in back, neck, and shoulder, injuries from the increased physical demands of keeping snow clear from our homes. An even more serious issue is the combination of intense physical activity and blood vessel constriction associated with cold weather that can cause considerable stress on the cardiovascular system (think heart attack). If you’ve been hibernating all winter, it’s best to not push yourself too much when shoveling!
With the upcoming storm warnings, it makes sense for us to take a moment and think about how we can keep our bodies safe as we undertake the strenuous work of snow removal, and at the same time benefit from the exercise.
The first thing we need to do is make sure our bodies are warmed-up and activated for the task at hand. Shoveling snow involves nearly every part of the body. With that in mind, here are some things we can do to get ready to do the work, and stretches we can do afterward to help our body recover safely.
Because the cold air will make breathing more challenging, spend a few minutes doing a breath exercise that will prime your body for the decrease in oxygen as you work. Take in 10-15 deep breaths quickly and exhale them completely. On the last breath hold it as long as you are able, exhale and hold at the bottom as long as you are able. Repeat this exercise 3 times and by the third, you will notice you can hold your breath much longer than you could the first time.
Next, let’s make sure our core body temperature is warm. A series of jumping jacks, air squats, and running in place is a great way to get the blood flowing. Spend 3-5 minutes moving through all or a combination of these exercises to prepare your body for activity.
Incorporate a movement that will get your body ready to hinge from your hips.
Hip hinge – hold a broom against your back with one hand behind your head and the other behind you waist, hinge forward from the hips pushing your hips behind you and return to standing position.
Toe Touches – elevate your toes on a book, reach for your toes keeping your knees as straight as you can and return to standing. Do the same exercise with your heels elevated.
Bird Dog – come to your hands and knees, knees beneath your hips and wrists beneath shoulders, raise and extend the left arm and right leg keeping your hips parallel to the ground (think of your back as a table and you don’t want to spill the cup of tea sitting on top).
Cat-Cow – in the same position on your hands and knees, rotate your crown and tail toward the ceiling while allowing your belly to drop toward the floor and you take a deep breath in; on your exhale tuck your chin and tail while rounding your back toward the ceiling.
Bridge Exercise – from a lying position raise your knees and bring your heels in alignment with your hips. Raise your hips toward the ceiling allowing your weight to travel toward your shoulders. Hold for 3 seconds at the top.
Things to keep in mind while you are shoveling: try not to bend and twist at the same time. Instead, face the snow as you scoop and bend from your hips and knees. Use your legs to push up to a standing position. Remember to keep your chest up! Once standing, rotate your body toward and face the location you want to put the snow. If possible, walk to the location you will deposit the snow rather than throwing it. Use small loads of snow per shovel rather than lifting loads that are too heavy. When pushing the snow, keep the shovel directly in front of you, preferably with both hands. Keep your core tight and engaged to protect your back.
If you need to take breaks and get some water, do so. It’s understandable to just want to get it done, but you are more likely to hurt yourself at the end of a long shoveling session.
Once you’re all done, have a warm cup of tea and take a little rest if you can. Remember, the first day of Spring is officially March 20, 2019, so the end to all this snow has to be coming soon, right?
Written by Norma Maxwell and Dr. Aaron Jones
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