Shovelling Snow - Safely


Snow removal is often done in a rush to get to work on time, or to finish as fast as possible.

The good news is that 15 minutes of light snow shovelling is considered moderate physical activity.  Canada's Physical Activity Guide says we should aim for at least 60 minutes of daily moderate physical activity of some kind.

The bad news is that research has shown an increase in the number of fatal heart attacks among individuals shovelling snow following heavy snowfalls.  This may be due to the sudden demand that shovelling in cold weather places on an individual's heart and body.

While not everyone who shovels snow will suffer an injury or heart attack, it can be good exercise when performed correctly and with safety in mind.

Who should think twice about shovelling snow?

  • People who have existing health problems, or injuries.
  • Older individuals.
  • People who are at risk for a heart attack, including:
    • anyone who has had a previous heart attack;
    • people with family or personal history of heart disease, high blood pressure or high cholesterol levels;
    • smokers; and
    • people leading a sedentary lifestyle.

Prior to shovelling

  • Avoid stimulants like caffeine and nicotine that place extra stress on the heart.
  • Avoid eating large meals that place demands on the digestive system.
  • Drink plenty of water.  Dehydration is an issue in winter as it is in summer.
  • Dress in several layers.  Remove a layer as needed.  Extremities, such as the nose, ears, hands and feet need extra attention when it is cold outside.  Place a scarf or other face protection over the nose / mouth to avoid breathing cold air.
  • Wear proper footwear.  Boots with slip-resistant soles or anti-slip cleat attachments can help to minimize the risk of slips and falls.
  • Warm-up for five-to-ten minutes to get the joints moving and increase blood circulation.  March on the spot, climb stairs or go for a quick walk around the block.
  • After warm-up, perform gentle stretches for the back (i.e. knees to chest), arms and shoulders (i.e. body hug), and legs (i.e. forward bends from a seated position).  This will ensure that your body is ready for action.


Reprinted from the Occupational Health Clinics of Ontario Workers.