Workers here (that’s us!) downed snow shovelling tools this week after reading in the papers that it’s dangerous for people over the age of 50. We read that this week many people in New York and Pennsylvania have had heart attacks and died as a result.
Snow shovelling – a killer. Really??
We read on. Apparently there are many things about it that puts pressure on the heart. If – an American doctor writes – you’re over 60 (and we are), and have a build-up of snow outside your house, the best thing to do is wait until someone poor enough to need the money knocks on the door and offers to do it for you (provided they aren’t over 60 of course).
We waited, but no-one is poor enough to want to do that here. So we read on.
We know it can be a strenuous activity. A problem for many people in the US it seems is that for them it’s a once-every-two-years activity, so they aren’t well prepared. For us it can be a daily activity and as the season builds up so does our fitness for the task.
Another potential problem is that snow shovelling is done in cold temperatures which is when the arteries narrow, increasing blood pressure. So the advice is, don’t do strenuous activities in cold weather. You couldn’t take that seriously here – you’d be putting your feet up for eight months of the year.
They go further: it’s better, they say, not to shovel snow while the snow is falling because then it is colder, so they advise that you wait until it stops.
So, they want you to wait until the snow is piled up high outside your door before you try and move it? And they think it’s better to remove snow when it’s warmer, when the snow is wetter and heavier?
They describe the mechanics of snow shovelling as especially demanding because of the amount of arm work above shoulder height, stiff leg work, breath-holding exertion, and back-breaking bending.
Intrigued by this description, we watched a video of New Yorkers snow shovelling and found it hard to recognise the activity. We saw people digging very narrow channels, scraping every centimetre off the pavement, through deep snow, with a shovel, or even with a spade. (A spade – that is, a heavy iron device which is a weight to lift even before you put snow on it.) Then they are bending over, picking up a heavy load, and chucking it away high above them.
No, no, no, no.
People of the US, you’re not doing this right. Don’t wait until you can’t get out the doorway before you start to shovel! Don’t move the snow when it’s already melting and heavy! Don’t use a spade to lift (a spade that already weighs a lot before you pick up the snow) and if you use a shovel, don’t lift it anyway!
You need the right tool for the job; that’s a sled, a very wide, light aluminium plate with sides and back that you push along the ground using the weight of the body, not the arms. You empty it of snow by tipping it forward or sliding it ahead of you.
You also need to leave some layers of that slid-ey snow on the ground for the sled to run on, so you aren’t picking up the weight of the snow yourself – so it’s no use scraping it up, all clean and tidy, to impress the neighbours. Using a sled you won’t be able to make a deep narrow channel with the face of the Eiger carved on either side like we’ve seen in all the pictures, and you won’t want to wait until the mountain is formed before you start making a path. The sled will make a soft wide path, which creates less of a photo opportunity but is a lot more useful in the long run.
When you start you might need to use a smaller shovel (a light one) to carve out a starting point. Or you might need to start from the other end (the road, say) and work your way in and out, removing snow very slowly, bit by bit, by pushing the sled or pulling it backwards. Either way you’ll need to be patient and regard all the walking to and fro as a meditative exercise rather than a dash to the finishing line.
It’s an art, snow shovelling, not a competition. It’s good to remember this if you want to avoid that heart attack. I’m sure these days it’s also a good activity to develop ‘mindfulness’.
Your awareness might be so highly developed once you try it this way that you begin to wonder whether you really need to shovel at all. After all, it is possible to walk through snow, and if it’s wet and compacted you could even walk on top of it and survive to tell the tale.
And if you don’t like the idea of doing that either, you can always stay at home and just wait for it all to melt – which is a luxury option we may dream of, but don’t have here.