Warm up before grabbing the shovel
ANDREW PHILIPS/SPECIAL TO THE PACKET & TIMES Kinesiologist Sarah Teefy said the number of area residents suffering from back pain normally increases in the winter as shovels and snow enter the vernacular.
Kinesiologist Sarah Teefy has a simple message for those picking up the shovel: Warm up first.
Teefy, who heads the Couchiching Family Health Team's lower back pain program, said she sees a wide range of clients who have hurt themselves clearing their sidewalks, porches, driveways and roofs of snow and ice so far this winter.
And given this season's heavy snowfall, the new patients are likely to keep on coming.
Teefy said the key to staying healthy is to look at clearing snow as a sporting exercise rather than a chore since many won't think twice about warming up beforehand when it comes to sports.
"It's more strenuous work," she said, noting many people will leave the warmth of their homes and enter the cold to tackle their driveways with nary a stretch. "It's a real upper-body workout."
But the pain that comes with a tweak here or a crack there isn't reserved for a certain age group, according to Teefy, who pointed out her clientele ranges from 20-somethings to those well into their golden years.
"Anybody younger usually bounces back a little quicker, but they still need to be careful," she said, adding stretching both before and after shovelling can go a long way towards better back and muscle health.
But it's not just aching backs that cause health concerns at this time of year.
Heart issues also come to the fore at this time of year as well as the effects of cold temperatures with area hospitals reporting higher admissions from those suffering from cold, according to Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit spokesman John Challis.
The Heart & Stroke Foundation of Canada says that there are times when "leaving the snow on the ground could save your life."
According to the agency, shovelling snow in extreme cold increases one's risk of heart attack. Mortality rates are reportedly 10 per cent higher during winter than in warmer months.
"The risk is even greater if you're inactive or living with heart disease," the organization outlines in a special online posting.
"Scooping heavy, wet snow raises your heart rate quickly. Add in cold temperatures that raise blood pressure and increase the likelihood of developing blood clots, and it can be deadly."
That said, the agency provides a number of safety tips that can protect one's heart, including warming up, taking a breather when needed and not starting the project after a large meal since this can cause extra heart strain when the body is already working hard to digest food.
"Take frequent breaks and sip water to stay hydrated," the foundation suggests. "If you're tired, finish the job later."