I read an article today in the local paper that said a person should probably stop shoveling snow after they turn 45 years old, and definitely stop after 55. It sounds like an ad for snowblowers, though this was advice from a doctor, not a hardware store. (And anyway, snowblowers create their own risks.) The strenuousness of shoveling is exacerbated by the cold, so shoveling overstresses the heart, increases blood pressure, and constricts the arteries, which puts anyone with heart problems in the danger zone for a heart attack, and oh, yes: apparently studies have shown that perhaps 85% of adults have some sort of underlying arteriosclerotic cardiac disease even though most don’t know it. All this leads to approximately 1,000 heart attack deaths from shoveling every year, as well as thousands of other injuries, including approximately 4,000 back injuries from overextension of the back.
It doesn’t really help knowing this, because there is so much left unsaid. Are those who die sedentary folk who suddenly put their body through the tremendous workout of shoveling snow? If a person is otherwise healthy and physically active, is it still a problem to shovel snow after 45, or 55, or even 65? If you are aware of your physical limitations, can you do small sections of the work at a time without harm?
Mostly, though, it doesn’t help me knowing about the risk of heart attacks and other injuries because I am the only one here to shovel the snow, though occasionally a neighbor will do my walk along with his (but not often because he isn’t a kid, either). “Shoveling,” in my case is rather a misnomer. We mostly get light dry snow around here, so a couple of good sweepings with a stiff broom — one in the middle of a storm and one at the end — keep the need for shoveling to a minimum. And if by chance I do have to shovel, I push the snow with a bent-handled shovel (which is ergonomically designed to reduce stress on the back). And I stop frequently to look around and enjoy the day, because clearing my ramp and sidewalk are about the only times I go outside during snowy times. (I am cognizant of iciness and falls risks, so even if I feel like going out for a walk in such weather, I generally don’t.)
I reduce my snow-related risks in other ways to make up for possible shoveling hazards, such as not driving at all when the roads aren’t completely clear, and I wear heavy all-weather hiking shoes and use trekking poles if I do have to walk on treacherous surfaces.
It’s ironic, now that I think of it: this article was on the same page as an article about the dangers of climate change in Colorado, though (facetiously speaking), you’d think that less snow would be healthier for us considering the dangers of snow removal.
Pat Bertram is the author of intriguing fiction and insightful works of grief.