I laughed the first time I heard that the Weather Channel had started naming winter storms. I stopped laughing when a snowmaggedon named Hercules sucker punched the Midwest and East Coast. I completely stopped laughing when the air temperature plummeted to -13F, with windchills dropping it to -35F.

Nearly two feet of snow have dropped on my hometown of Cleveland, Ohio. I worked from home yesterday and today, but a trip to a local store yesterday – a five-minute drive from my house – was a white-knuckled nightmare of a driving experience. I shoveled our walks and driveway twice yesterday, only to wake up this morning to three-foot drifts across the driveway this morning. More shoveling is in my future.

Shoveling snow is a major winter activity in many parts of the United States. Many of us consider shoveling a form of exercise, and in fact, only 15 minutes of shoveling counts as moderate physical activity. Keep this in mind, or you can increase your risk of an injury.

Take it from someone who knows; a few precautions while you are shoveling can help prevent unnecessary pain and suffering.

  • If you have a history of heart problems or are inactive, talk to your doctor before shoveling. There is an increase in the number of fatal heart attacks among shovelers.
  • Warm up and stretch before you get started.
  • Drink plenty of water to keep yourself hydrated.
  • Shovel only fresh snow. Freshly fallen, powdery snow is easier to shovel than the wet, packed-down variety.
  • Push, don’t lift, the snow. It's easier on your back and uses less energy than lifting.
  • Pick the right shovel for you. Don't pick up too much at once. Use a small shovel, or fill only one-fourth or one-half of a large one.
  • Lift with your legs bent, not your back. Keep your back straight. By bending and "sitting" into the movement, you'll keep your spine upright and less stressed. Your shoulders, torso and thighs can do the work for you.
  • Dress the part. Dress in layers; if you work up a sweat, you’ll be able to remove so me of those layers. Wear a hat and gloves to protect you extremities, wrap on a scarf and wear wool socks and waterproof boots to protect your body from the cold temperature.
  • If your body is telling you to stop, listen to it. Stop if you feel pain or start seeing heart attack warning signs: chest pain; shoulder, neck or arm pain; dizziness, fainting, sweating or nausea; and/ or shortness of breath. Get medical help immediately.