Revisiting: To Shovel or Not to Shovel

Snow Shovelling - DSC 4903 ep

The past weekend saw record amounts of snowfall in some parts of the East Coast. The next few days call for possible records in parts of the Midwest.

A topic that comes up every now and again–and that I addressed in a blog two years ago–is how dangerous it might be to shovel snow from a health standpoint. We hear stories about people having heart attacks while shoveling, but what is the real story?

According the MetroHealth website (one of the hospital networks here in Cleveland): “Shoveling, even pushing a heavy snow blower, can cause sudden increase in blood pressure and heart rate, and the cold air can cause constriction of the blood vessel and decrease oxygen to the heart. All these work in concert to increase the work of the heart and trigger a potentially fatal heart attack.” What we have here is a kind of double-whammy. On the one hand, the physical exertion leads to elevated and respiratory rates, while on the other hand, the cold air may prevent the additional oxygen from reaching the heart where it is needed most.

For most folks in decent health, the risk still remains relatively low. In fact, according to an article from Harvard Medical School, only about 100 people die each year from shoveling snow. If, however, a person already has compromised heart or lung function or is elderly, there is definitely a risk factor here. See my last blog post on the likelihood of heart attacks from strenuos activity in general.

Each person knows their own body best. While there may be a low risk of a cardiac event, it is possible to develop issues with soreness of muscles or damage to tendons and ligaments as a result of shoveling. Perhaps most noteworthy is the danger of slipping on ice if such conditions exist. Younger adults may end up with only a bruise or a sprain, but older adults may have an increased risk of fractures, which can lead to further complications.

Weigh the pros and cons…and consider that paying the neighbor’s kid to shovel may not only help preserve your health, but also help a young entrepreneur on their way to self-sufficiency!