Get your fit on with a shovel!

I know there are other months that have 31 days but there’s something about January that seems to make it twice as long as any other month. Even though we are now closer to spring than we were to fall when the days started to get darker, it still seems like spring will take forever to arrive.

I am reminded in the dim days of this longest month of Allan Bradley’s evocative description of time stretching endlessly. In one of his lovely Flavia de Luce series, the author sends his hero off to boarding school where Flavia notes despondently that “The hours trudged by with chains on their ankles.”

The thing about January though is that it brings snow. Heavy, wet snow, and usually there lots of it. It certainly can feel like chains when you look at your drive and sidewalk.

Image shows a large Husky type dog staring grumpily at the photographer while snow is falling. Photo by Kateryna Babaieva on

As I write this, the forecast is calling for a big storm here on the East coast of Newfoundland, and while not quite reaching the epic proportions of last year’s Snowmaggedon, it’s enough to close schools, offices and other places of business and break out storm chips and other cozy, warming, and cheery things.

Perhaps you too live in a place where there is snow, and lots of it. The problem with snow as an adult is that it often requires removal. Here we also get wet snow, which is heavy, clumpy and when ploughed off the street, also liberally laced with chunks of ice.

So my Fit Feminist pals, let’s look at getting our fitness on with snow removal. Yes, there has been research. Mostly on men. This study from 1995 (!) had nine men either push or shovel snow from an accumulation (or snowfall) of between a foot and a half to two feet.

The researchers didn’t note the amount of energy expended but they did conclude the following: manual clearing of snow in conditions representing heavy snowfalls was found to be strenuous physical work, not suitable for persons with cardiac risk factors, but which may serve as a mode of physical training in healthy adults.

Most of the available research on snow shovelling and cardiac risks focuses on men because men are the ones traditionally doing the shovelling. Snow shovelling works your arms, your shoulders, your back, your legs, and your core. You will breathe hard so if you are the slightest bit asthmatic, you will need a face covering as well to warm the air going into your lungs.

However, some researchers suspect cardiac events may be fewer in women than men because women shovel snow differently. Until there’s actual research looking at it though, we have to accept snow removal is hard work, regardless of sex, and while there’s no appreciable difference in the exertion used with either a shovel or a pusher, you have to be careful regardless of what tool you use.

Here are a few tips for health and safety, should you not be someone who owns a snowblower or who doesn’t have a kind neighbour with one:

  1. As you would with any other strenuous exercise, warm up your muscles before you start.
  2. Dress appropriately. Dress in layers as you will sweat. Wear a hat to keep heat in.
  3. Assess any potential danger (piles of snow on the roof of your porch, your car, or trees). Also look at where you plan to throw your snow. Be kind to your neighbours.
  4. Use a shovel that works with your height and use one that is not too heavy to start with.
  5. Take frequent breaks, stretch, and hydrate.
  6. Remember to watch your back: Bend your knees and engage your abs when you’re lifting that shovel full of snow! (Thanks to Irene for posting this safety tip below!)

After you are done, pat yourself on the back. Have a hot shower or bath to soothe your muscles. Admire your handiwork. Remember, while you will probably have to do it all again in a few days, it beats the gym any day.

MarthaFitat55 has her own shovel and knows how to use it.

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