Shoveling snow is often seen as a dreaded wintertime chore, but it can actually provide some hidden health benefits. With the right techniques and preparation, shoveling snow can be an effective way to burn calories and lose weight.
How Many Calories Does Shoveling Snow Burn?
The number of calories burned while shoveling snow depends on a few factors:
- Your weight – Heavier people burn more calories performing the same activity.
- Intensity – More intense shoveling burns more calories per minute.
- Time spent – Longer shoveling sessions burn more calories overall.
According to Harvard Health Publishing, a 155 pound person burns roughly 272 calories shoveling snow for 30 minutes. For a 200 pound person, that number jumps to 352 calories. The harder and faster you shovel, the more calories you’ll burn.
|Weight||Calories burned per 30 minutes|
|120 lbs||204 calories|
|155 lbs||272 calories|
|200 lbs||352 calories|
How Does Shoveling Snow Compare to Other Exercise?
Shoveling snow can burn a significant number of calories, but how does it compare to other forms of exercise for weight loss?
Here’s an estimate of calories burned in 30 minutes by a 155 pound person (using Harvard Health data):
- Walking (2 mph): 149 calories
- Shoveling snow: 272 calories
- Elliptical trainer (moderate effort): 298 calories
- Jogging (5 mph): 391 calories
Shoveling snow burns about 80% as many calories as jogging, but over twice as many calories as walking. The rate can be even higher if shoveling vigorously.
The whole body nature of shoveling snow makes it an efficient calorie burner. Lifting and throwing each scoop works the back, arms, shoulders, chest and legs.
Tips for Maximizing Calorie Burn
Here are some tips to burn even more calories while shoveling snow:
- Use an ergonomic shovel with a curved handle to work more muscles.
- Lift full shovel loads and throw the snow (don’t just push it off the blade).
- Take big steps as you shovel – engage your leg muscles.
- Keep your pace up without stopping or leaning on the shovel.
- Shovel for longer periods to maximize calorie burn.
- Go at maximum effort for short bursts to spike your heart rate.
The Cardiovascular Benefits
Beyond just burning calories, shoveling snow provides excellent cardiovascular exercise. According to the Mayo Clinic, physical activities that significantly raise your heart rate contribute to:
- Stronger heart muscle
- Improved blood circulation
- Lower blood pressure
- Reduced cholesterol
Shoveling snow certainly gets the heart pumping. Combine shoveling with brisk walking between areas, and you have an effective cardio workout.
Strength Training Benefits
Shoveling snow doesn’t just raise your heart rate, it also serves as a form of strength training. Lifting and throwing heavy snow builds muscles in the arms, back, chest, shoulders and legs. According to the American Council on Exercise, strength training provides many benefits:
- Increased metabolism – More muscle mass burns more calories all day.
- Greater mobility and balance
- Reduced risk of injury
- Less body fat
- Higher bone density
The strength training from shoveling snow enhances your overall fitness and ability to burn calories. Just be sure to lift safely using proper form.
Is Shoveling Snow High-Intensity Exercise?
High-intensity interval training (HIIT) alternates short bursts of maximum intensity with recovery periods. Shoveling snow as fast as possible for 30 seconds, followed by 30 seconds of rest, qualifies as HIIT.
According to a study in the European Journal of Applied Physiology, a 4 minute HIIT snow shoveling routine burns calories and gets heart rate into the anaerobic zone as well as 30 minutes of continuous shoveling. HIIT is extremely time efficient.
The stop-and-go nature of shoveling (clearing one area before moving to the next) also lends itself to interval training. You can make each area an all-out effort.
Should You Do Other Exercise Also?
Shoveling snow can burn significant calories, but it has a few limitations for weight loss:
- You can only shovel after it snows.
- It usually involves short bursts of intense effort.
- You use similar muscle groups each time.
Experts recommend combining shoveling snow with other forms of exercise to maximize weight loss results. Here are some options:
- Aerobic exercise – Jogging, cycling or aerobic classes 3-5 times per week provide sustained calorie burn.
- Strength training – Use free weights, machines or resistance bands 2-3 times per week to build muscle mass.
- Yoga – Yoga improves flexibility, balance and muscle tone. It compliments shoveling’s strength training effects.
A varied workout routine prepares your body for the intense bursts of shoveling snow. It provides calorie burn and overall fitness for the rest of the year as well.
Is Shoveling Snow Safe?
While shoveling snow has many benefits, it does carry some safety risks. The American Heart Association warns that heart attacks from snow shoveling kill about 100 people each year. To shovel safely:
- Check with your doctor if you have heart disease or are sedentary.
- Dress in layers and wear non-slip footwear.
- Warm up muscles with light exercise first.
- Push snow instead of lifting when possible.
- Lift safely by bending knees and keeping back straight.
- Work slowly at an easy pace. Take frequent breaks.
- Hydrate with warm fluids like tea.
- Avoid caffeine before shoveling which can affect the heart.
- Stop immediately if feeling pain, lightheaded or nauseous.
Warming Up and Stretching
Warming up before shoveling snow is important to prevent injury and prepare the muscles. Here are some quick warm up exercises:
- Walk in place lifting knees high to warm up legs.
- Do arm circles forward and backward to warm up shoulders.
- Rotate your torso carefully from side to side to warm up back.
- Do body squats sitting back with arms outstretched to warm up quads.
After warming up, take a few minutes to stretch the major muscles used in shoveling:
- Calf stretch – Lean into wall with straight leg and heel down.
- Hamstring stretch – Sit with straight leg and lean forward.
- Shoulder stretch – Rotate arm across chest and pull elbow with other arm.
- Lower back stretch – Rotate torso while sitting with knees bent and feet flat.
Proper Shoveling Technique
Using proper shoveling technique protects the back from injury. According to physical therapists:
- Stand with feet hip width apart for stability. Keep back straight.
- Always push the snow instead of lifting when possible.
- When lifting, bend knees and hips and keep back straight.
- Hold load close to your body. Do not twist.
- Lift with legs, not back. Tighten core during lift.
- Pivot feet to turn – don’t twist at the waist.
- Take small loads to control form and weight.
What to Wear When Shoveling Snow
Dressing properly for snow shoveling helps prevent injury and illness:
- Base layer – Synthetic moisture-wicking shirts and pants.
- Insulating layers – Fleece or wool sweaters and pants.
- Outer shell – Waterproof and windproof jacket and pants.
- Hand protection – Insulated waterproof gloves.
- Footwear – Waterproof boots with grip traction.
- Headwear – Insulated hat or ear wraps. Helmet if icy.
Dress in breathable layers you can remove to prevent sweating. Change any wet layers immediately when going back inside.
Staying Hydrated and Refueled
Shoveling snow leads to fluid loss through sweating. Dehydration can cause muscle cramps, exhaustion and hypothermia. Drink plenty of non-caffeinated fluids:
- Water – Carry a bottle to sip frequently while shoveling.
- Sports drinks – Replace electrolytes and carbohydrates lost.
- Hot tea – Provides hydration and warmth.
- Hot cocoa – The milk provides protein, carbs and electrolytes.
Replenish calories burned by eating healthy carbohydrate and protein snacks:
- Granola bars
- Trail mix
- Fresh fruit
- Greek yogurt
- Peanut butter sandwiches
- Hummus and vegetables
Along with proper technique, a few other tips help avoid injury when shoveling snow:
- Stretch and warm up before starting.
- Take frequent breaks to rest muscles.
- Rotate tasks to use different muscle groups.
- Stay hydrated and refuel with healthy snacks.
- Use an ergonomic shovel to reduce strain.
- Listen to your body and stop if you feel pain.
Know the signs of frostbite and hypothermia which signal it’s time to go back inside. Change immediately out of damp clothes.
Should You Hire Someone?
While shoveling snow yourself provides great exercise, some situations call for hiring professional help:
- You have a medical condition aggravated by exercise.
- You’re recovering from a recent illness or injury.
- Snowfall is very heavy or dense.
- Driveway and walkways are very long.
- You will be away and need snow removed.
Many snow removal services now offer “on-demand” snow clearing with mobile apps. This is convenient if you just need help with one heavy storm.
Consider hiring someone to plow your driveway while you shovel the walkways at a moderate pace. This lightens the workload while still providing exercise.
Using a Snow Blower
A snow blower requires less exertion than shoveling, but operating one still provides some exercise benefits:
- Pushing a snow blower with self-propulsion burns calories.
- Walking behind it provides a cardio workout.
- Manually throwing snow at the end uses upper body muscles.
- Younger or healthier people can shovel untouched sections.
A snow blower is wise for older adults or those recovering from illness/injury. Others may use a snow blower for heavy snow and shovel small accumulations.
Shoveling Snow with Medical Conditions
Always talk to your doctor before shoveling snow if you have a medical condition. Some general tips:
- Work slowly with frequent breaks if you have heart disease.
- Wear a back brace if you have back problems.
- Use a small lightweight shovel if you have arthritis.
- Avoid twisting motions with an abdominal hernia.
- Push rather than lift if you have a history of stroke.
Listen to your body. Stop immediately if you feel any pain. Check with your doctor about appropriate modifications to stay active safely.
Cautions for Older Adults
Snow shoveling leads to about 11,500 injuries and emergencies requiring hospitalization for older adults each year according to a study in the journal Injury Epidemiology. To shovel safely:
- Talk to your doctor about any exercise restrictions.
- Take it slow with small loads.
- Use an ergonomic shovel.
- Stay hydrated and dress warmly.
- Stop immediately if feeling pain or discomfort.
Consider hiring snow removal help or asking a younger neighbor to assist with heavy snow. This provides peace of mind while maintaining independence.
Making Shoveling Easier
Here are some additional tips to make clearing snow a little easier:
- Stay on top of snow removal during storms.
- Apply de-icing products after shoveling to prevent refreezing.
- Let the sun help – wait for snow to melt a bit before removing.
- Enlist family members to share shoveling duties.
- Alternate between different shovels for variety.
- Listen to music or podcasts while shoveling to make the time pass quicker!
Shoveling snow is an intense full-body workout that boosts your heart rate and burns calories for weight loss. Just be sure to utilize proper technique, stretch beforehand, and take breaks to prevent injury. Stay hydrated and wear breathable layers to stay warm without getting sweaty. Hiring help is wise if you have health conditions or physical limitations. With the right precautions, shoveling snow can be an enjoyable way to usher in winter while improving your fitness and shedding holiday pounds.