It’s shovel time again

Sun going down on shovels at rest. Photo: Lucy Martin

Sun going down on shovels at rest. Photo: Lucy Martin

I think all of us are staggered at the photos of how much snow fell in parts of western New York. It definitely pus my own shoveling and roof concerns in a lighter perspective.

For some strange reason, I still like shoveling snow. I like being outside. Snow is mostly pretty. (Not all churned up in city slush. But out in nature, a snowy landscape is wonderful.) Plus, there’s something very satisfying about how tangible that task can be. To wit: the driveway was full. Now it is clear. I did that.

True, I’ve only been at it for 15 winters now, not a lifetime. In contrast, I’ve been mowing lawns since age 9 and I am so over that chore!

Of course, when the dump is wet & heavy, it’s a whole different story. I am also less happy when I have to rake the roof and somehow move the mountains of compressed/heavy snow that brings down. And I have never had to shovel anything like what Buffalo gets. Have mercy!

But across snow country, for some, the deep, heavy digging can bring on a heart attack.

Here’s a recent CBC article on why shoveling snow carries that risk. The article quotes experts who cite a combination of cold, sudden exertion while it’s cold and (for many) lack of general aerobic fitness.

The people most at risk are those who don’t exercise, and for whom “snow-shovelling may represent the most strenuous activity they do in the year,” says Dr. Neil Fam, a cardiologist in Toronto.

When a person starts vigorously shovelling snow, the blood flow to the heart becomes very fast. This may not cause problems for someone who is fit, but for someone who is unused to physical activity, the rush of blood can lead to chest pain, or angina, “because the heart muscle isn’t getting enough oxygen supply,” Dr. Fam says.

 Snow drifts turned many roads into one-lane traffic. This photo is from Feb. 7, 1977. Creative Commons

Snow drifts turned many roads into one-lane traffic. This photo is from Feb. 7, 1977. Creative Commons

Matthew Mayer, a senior specialist of research at the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada says we shouldn’t just jump into heavy shoveling:

He suggests something as simple as taking a short walk beforehand to get the blood flowing.

“I often think a really good saying is, ‘We should be getting fit to do these activities, not do these activities to get fit.'”

(Note: the advice above fails to realize that a leisurely warm-up walk is unavailable until the possible heart-attack victim successfully shovels their way out from under.)

The BBC had this explainer for Britons unused to dealing with heavy snow: “Why do so many people die shoveling snow?” Experts say it’s because the situation:

  • raises blood pressure and heart rate more than some other forms of exercise
  • cold air constricts blood vessels
  • cardiac risks are higher in early morning
  • rare exercise for sedentary over-55s

That article says Cardiologist Barry Franklin (“an expert in the hazardous effects of snow removal”) considers snow shoveling to be so dangerous that he advises anyone over the age of 55 not to do it.

I’m not sure that doctor’s note is very useful. There’s no one younger left in my house and there’s a shortage of fairies who come and do the shoveling for you.

Meanwhile, there’s the silver lining of all that snow, it’s skiing time again.

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