No one loves to shovel snow – play in it, maybe, but not shovel it. Most of us regard this winter chore as a necessary evil, but we still don’t appreciate just how hazardous shoveling can be to our health.

Every year, snow shoveling mishaps send around 11,500 people to the emergency room, some for life-threatening conditions. The dangerous combination of cold temperatures and physical exertion – shoveling snow for just two minutes can raise heart rates to dangerous levels – causes approximately 100 people to suffer deadly heart attacks while shoveling annually. Even among healthy people, shoveling snow in the cold can increase your blood pressure more than intentional exercise like running on a treadmill. Unfortunate snow clearers also suffer injuries from overexerting their muscles, falling on the ice, and getting hit by shovels, causing painful conditions like soft tissue damage and lower back injuries. The best way to protect yourself and prevent your family from having to rush to the ER is by taking the right precautions to make shoveling snow as safe as possible.

1. Limit Layers.

When the temperature is below freezing, it makes sense to bundle up – but not too much. After all, you’re not just going out to admire the scenery. You’re on a mission. Shoveling snow for half an hour can easily burn 200 to 300 calories or more, which means you’re getting a pretty good workout. Wearing too many layers can leave you drenched in sweat before you even finish clearing the driveway.

Instead of overloading on the layers, choose winter clean-up clothes strategically. A good rule of thumb is to dress in three layers:

  • Thermal underwear (long John’s, anyone?)
  • Insulation (think a fleece hoodie thick enough to keep you warm, but loose enough to easily take off if you get too hot)
  • A shell (this is where your winter coat comes in, protecting you from direct exposure to the cold, wet snow)

With a hat, a scarf, and a pair of supportive boots, you’ll be ready for the cold without being too hot.

2. Push, Don’t Lift the Snow.

Lifting the snow exerts more energy than merely pushing it. Not only is this dangerous to snow clearers who suffer from heart conditions or aren’t in the best physical shape, but it’s inefficient for anyone trying to get the job done faster. When you lift and throw snow over your shoulder, you can twist and strain your muscles, putting even healthy and fit snow clearers at risk for a muscle injury.

Instead of lifting heavy shovelfuls of snow and stressing your muscles with the turns and twists required to throw it, you can more efficiently and safely clear a driveway, walkway, or any area by simply pushing the snow to the side. You also won’t have to worry about the wind catching airborne snow and blowing it back into your path so that you have to shovel the same snow twice. Pushing snow is safer, faster, and all-around better than lifting it.

3. Use the Right Tools.

If you grab a shovel immediately, or if you think all shovels are the same, you might be approaching your snow removal task all wrong – and it could make your work more dangerous and more difficult.

  • For light snow, use a broom to sweep surfaces clear. It’s faster and easier than a shovel, and it works better.
  • Consider a push shovel – the kind shaped like a snowplow – to help you more efficiently push the snow along.
  • If you must scoop the snow, use a shovel with a bent handle that will allow you to avoid bending over and risk hurting your back.

By taking a few precautions, you can make snow shoveling a safer activity for everyone you love.