Clearing your snow-covered walks and driveway may your most dreaded winter chore, but this activity also burn lots of calories pretty quickly. Snow shoveling is dynamic cardio exercise that works the muscles in your legs, core, back, shoulders and arms. Though the exact number of calories depends on a variety of factors, there's no doubt it's a good workout.
As you work to keep your body warm, walk around, lift a shovel loaded with frozen water, brace your core, thighs and upper body against the weight and repeat a full range of movement with each toss, all of these things add up to a fair workout — and a strenuous one. But in the frigid temperatures, it's essential to take precautions to stay safe.
Shoveling snow burns about 223 calories in 30 minutes (for a 155-pound person). A 125-pound person would burn 180 calories in the same amount of time, and a 185-pound individual burns 266.
Calories Burned Shoveling Snow
Before diving into specifics, let's start with a basic estimate. A 155-pound person shoveling snow for 30 minutes burns about 223 calories, according to Harvard Health Publishing. However, that number is 180 for a 125-pound person and 266 for a 185-pound person.
Why is body weight such a major factor in how many calories a person burns? Think of it this way: You're hauling your body weight around at the same time as you're clearing the sidewalk. So the more weight you're carrying around, the more calories you burn.
Factors That Affect the Total Number of Calories Burned
Several other variables come into play when shoveling snow. The first is intensity. If you're casually shoveling light, powdery snow from the sidewalk, you're going to burn fewer calories than someone who's quickly moving icy, packed snow out of the way.
When the snow is heavier and you're moving more quickly, your body responds by increasing your heart rate, which means your body is burning more calories to fuel the activity. Additionally, if you're scooping up a heavy load, your body recruits more muscle fibers to help you lift it.
And of course, if you're only out there slinging snow for 10 minutes, you're going to naturally burn fewer calories than if you were working for 30 minutes.
But on the other hand, taking long rests between short bouts of shoveling — or using a snow blower instead of a shovel — will reduce the amount of calories you burn. A 185-pound person using a snow blower for 30 minutes burns only 200 calories, compared to 266 when shoveling by hand.
And while you may think you're going to be burning a ton of extra calories the colder it is outside, that's not necessarily true. If you're bundled up (which you absolutely should be), your clothes are helping you stay warm and will help trap heat and sweat as you get moving, says Zac Schlader, PhD, associate professor in the department of kinesiology at Indiana University and a fellow for the American College of Sports Medicine.
Stay Safe While Shoveling Snow
As previously mentioned, snow shoveling is intense cardio work, so make sure you're in decent shape first. If you are older, out-of-shape and mostly sedentary, or have a medical condition that could put you at risk when performing high-intensity exercise, check with your physician before tackling the front walk.
Always proceed with caution. "Snow shoveling is responsible for thousands of injuries and as many as 100 deaths each year," according to the National Safety Council. Allow yourself plenty of time to get the job done so you don't put too much stress on your heart or strain on your muscles, says Curtis Cunningham, physical therapist and director rehabilitation services at Sinai Hospital of Baltimore.
Treat it like a real workout by warming up before. Just like you wouldn't deadlift a loaded barbell without first doing some dynamic stretches and range-of-motion exercises, you shouldn't tackle the layer of snow outside cold. Do some core rotations, jumping jacks and side-to-side reaches to get your heart rate up and your muscles (specifically your core) ready for action.
Make sure you're using the right shovel and handle for your size, Cunningham says. "The closer the shovel with the snow on it can stay to your body, the easier and less heavy it will be," he says. "If the handle is too long, it will be farther from your body and each load will be heavier than it needs to be."
Always shovel the snow by bending your knees and not lifting with your back. "Backs don't react well to a lot of twisting, especially while carrying something heavy, like a shovel and snow," Cunningham says. Take frequent breaks and do some quick stretching exercises when you've finished shoveling.
Strains and sprains aren't the only dangers shoveling snow can bring. When winter snows fall and scores of people are forced to clear their walks and driveways, Mikhail Varshavski, DO, a family and sports medicine specialist in New York and New Jersey, sees a spike in heart attacks. The cold cause the arteries of the body to constrict, which increases blood pressure. Listening to your body is important, Dr. Varshavski says.
If you notice any unusual sensations — including pressure or discomfort in the chest; discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach; shortness of breath, even without chest discomfort; breaking out in a cold sweat; nausea or lightheadedness — call 911 immediately.
If you have heart attack risk factors, such as high cholesterol, peripheral arterial disease (PAD) or are middle-aged or older, don’t shovel snow. Instead, hire a neighbor or local snowplow service to clear your walks and driveway.