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Elderly need to take care when shoveling snow

Experts say people over 50 should give up snow shoveling if possible invest snow blower.  |  Stephanie Dowell~Sun-Times

Experts say people over 50 should give up snow shoveling and if possible, invest in a snow blower. | Stephanie Dowell~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: January 5, 2011 2:34AM

Snowstorms are great fun for kids, but for seniors who own their own home, they mean it’s time for the dreaded shoveling, complete with aching backs and cold fingers and toes.

Shoveling snow is an energetic physical activity and is comparable to lifting weights quickly and with many repetitions. On average 1,200 people a year die as a result of shoveling snow, according to statistics on the Harvard Medical School’s Web site, .

Health experts say people 50 and older should try to avoid shoveling snow. The best idea is to get someone to shovel for you. Seniors looking for help in finding someone to hire to shovel the snow might try calling a local community facility, church or teen center. Purchasing a snow blower also should be considered.

If you must shovel, take it easy. Take breaks often. Wherever possible, push the snow rather than lift it.

Most importantly, listen to your body. Head inside if you experience potential signs of heart trouble, including chest pain, palpitations, shortness of breath, fatigue, light-headedness, or nausea.

Heart issues aren’t the only things that can go wrong.

“Older adults tend to have more health problems such as balance issues and heart conditions,” said Kara Smith, special program coordinator for the Loyola Center for Fitness. “Flexibility decreases with age, so the ability to lift and twist may be effected. Plus, heart attacks occur from overexertion and are more common in the older adult.”

For seniors who decide to shovel snow, here are some tips to help you stay healthy during shoveling season from Smith:

† Begin with a five- to 10-minute warmup. Take a brief walk or march in place. Add arm movements and stretching your back to warm up the upper body.

† Dress appropriately. Wearing layers allows you to adjust to the temperature outside. Cover your skin to prevent frostbite.

† Use a small shovel that has a curved handle. A shovel with wet snow can weigh up to 15 pounds.

† Separate your hands on the shovel. By creating space between your hands, you can increase your leverage on the shovel.

† Lift with your legs, not your back. Make sure your knees are bending and straightening to lift instead of leaning forward and straightening with the back.

† Shovel frequently. Don’t wait till the snow piles up. Shovel intermittently, about every two inches.

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