Get 'Wisconsin fit' during the snow shoveling season – Wausau Daily Herald

We got our first good snowstorm here in Central Wisconsin last week and it was a doozy.
Meanwhile, as I finished up this column, forecasters are predicting another bout of snow and cold. This, understandably, leads many of us to be filled with dread. But, what if we look at it another way? What if we look at it as a chance to get stronger and be more fit? Call it reframing, call it ‘Wisconsin fit.”
As with any exercise program, one should be cautious when first starting out. Shoveling snow can increase the risk of heart attack for some people. See tips on staying safe at the end of this column.
Things started with rain and sleet the night of Dec. 14 and ended with a dumping of soggy, heavy snow of 7 or so inches. We knew it was coming, but it still was startling to go to bed with rain pattering on the windows only to wake up in a changed world, everything buried in white. As I looked out onto the monochromatic landscape, I knew my morning routine of a couple of cups of coffee followed by a jog through the neighborhood would be upended.
Instead, after gulping down a quick half cup of coffee, and sensing that I would be getting a different kind of workout, I put on my Garmin fitness watch that measures my steps, distance travelled and heart rate. I toggled through the activity settings: Running? Nope. Cycling? Ha! In your dreams. Other? Yup, that was it!
Then I headed out in the winter air. It wasn’t windy or cold; temperatures were in the upper 20s. This, along with the day of rain that preceded the snowfall, gave the snow blanketing my driveway the consistency of wet cement. I wasn’t worried − I believed in my trusty Ariens snowblower. But, after I got it started, the plucky little machine struggled. And after trying for a few minutes, I noticed that only half the auger was turning around. A shear bolt had broken.
I had to resort to the old standby − the shovel. That’s when the workout got really good. My arm and shoulders started squawking, and then the complaints started coming in the abs, thighs and back muscles. As their griping commenced, I realized that I was getting a whole body workout. And it was free! I don’t know how much people pay for CrossFit or other gyms, but it’s got to be more than nothing.
One of my neighbors, on her morning walk, stopped and asked if she could help. “No thanks,” I told her, “I’m built for this.”
And in a way, I am. I was raised in a culture that valued work, among people who didn’t see work as “work,” but a way of life.
I was young when I started doing chores such as mowing the lawn, shoveling and using the snow blower. Later, I worked as a farmhand in the summer, throwing bales of hay and stacking them in barns. In the winter, I used farm tractors and buckets to clear driveways.
It was all a sloggy, mindless kind of work that required only a dogged determination. I wasn’t even that strong, but I figured out how to make the most of the power I had. Still later, and to this day, I spend many of my nonworking hours in activities that focus on long, slow, often tedious exertion. Turn off the mind, this ethos tells me, and embrace the drudgery.
I do believe that this mindset has served me well, not for just life in Wisconsin, but life overall. I’ve learned that, for the most part, even the most daunting tasks − like clearing a driveway of heavy, wet snow − will get done if you stick at them long enough. You will get tired though, and that’s when you take smaller shovelfuls.
Now about the shoveling workout. It’s a really good one. I was at it for 1 hour and 43 minutes, and I walked 1.3 miles.
My average heart rate was 119 beats per minute, which is a solid aerobic effort (my easy runs are in that range, typically). Digging deeper in the numbers: The number of calories I expended was estimated to be 952. Here’s the kicker: While my heart was steady for the bulk of the shoveling session, it rose to a peak of 167 toward the end, when I was struggling with that driveway snow/cement.
Wow, that’s almost makes it a HIIT workout, which means “high intensity interval training,” one of the most effective ways of building fitness levels.
However, a great fitness booster for some could be disaster for others. Which led Aspirus, a Wausau-based health care provider, to send out a press release titled “Avoid A Heart Attack While Shoveling Snow.” It passed along basic tips on healthy snow shoveling, provided by the National Safety Council:
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Features reporter Keith Uhlig is based in Wausau. Contact him at 715-845-0651 or Follow him at @UhligK on Twitter and Instagram or on Facebook.


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