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This or That: Shovel Your Snow or Blow It Away?

One snow-removal method could give you a heart attack, but the other might pollute your lungs.



This or That: Shovel Your Snow or Blow It Away?

Snow job: Can you clean your driveway without polluting your air or stressing your heart?


RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—Snow may be pretty to watch as it's falling, but as soon as it lands, you've got to do something about it. While human-operated snow shovels are easy on the Earth, the intense exertion isn't so easy on your heart. But gas-powered snow blowers are just the opposite. So what is the greenest and healthiest option when considering snow-removal equipment? We asked a cardiologist and spokesperson for the American Heart Association for his input.

This: Snow Shoveling

Pros: It's free exercise. The Surgeon General's Report on Physical Activity and Health considers 15 minutes of shoveling snow to be as vigorous as swimming laps for 20 minutes or walking for 30—great for burning off all those holiday cookies.

Cons: Shoveling snow could spell disaster for people with risk factors for heart disease, thanks to the combo of hard work and hard weather. There aren't many hard statistics on the number of heart attacks caused by heavy snow shoveling, but anecdotal evidence has shown that emergency-room visits due to heart attacks spike in the 24 hours after a heavy snowstorm, says Roger Blumenthal, MD, professor of medicine and cardiology and director of the Ciccarone Preventive Cardiology Center at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. "That's partly because when it's really cold, it's hard to judge how hard and how actively you're exercising, and how strenuously you're pushing yourself," he says. But it's also due to the fact that cold weather constricts your arteries, leading to a decrease in blood flow and an increase in blood pressure, he says. All of those factors are more likely to lead to a heart attack. Even seemingly healthy people can succumb to heart attacks after an intense bout of snow-shoveling, says Dr. Blumenthal, because we tend to overestimate how healthy our hearts are.

That: Snow Blowers

Pros: A handy piece of snow-removal equipment, snow blowers place no strain on your heart, and they can cut through as much as 21 inches of snow while barely boosting your heart rate.

Cons: Snow blowers are hard on the planet, particularly the gasoline-powered types that emit greenhouse gases along with carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, and nitrogen oxides (all components of smog) as well as particulate matter. And studies have found that such airborne gunk can boost the risk of heart attacks and strokes.

This or That?

Go with…the option that matches your situation. The greenest and healthiest piece of snow-shoveling equipment could very well be the neighbor's kid. If you're worried about your ticker and the long-term future of the planet, pay someone who's young and healthy to shovel it for you, says Dr. Blumenthal. That alternative notwithstanding, make your decision based on your health. "A snow blower is better than trying to rely on shoveling yourself if you have several risk factors for heart disease or if you've had a bypass in the past," he says. You're at risk, he adds, if you have any one of the A-B-C-D-E-F's of heart disease: age older than 65; blood pressure higher than 140 over 90; cholesterol levels that are too high or a past history of cigarette smoking; diabetes; (lack of) exercise; or family history.

If you fall into any one of those categories, a snow blower may be the preferable alternative, especially for clearing a large area. You can green it up by opting for an electric model, or by waiting to purchase one until 2011, when the Environmental Protection Agency will begin requiring manufacturers of small engines to outfit them with emissions-control units that will cut down on the aforementioned nasty pollutants.

For people who don't fall into a heart disease risk group, stick with the shovel. "It's a great form of exercise for younger people," Dr. Blumenthal notes.

If your heart's not at serious risk, shovel safely these tips:

• Avoid shoveling in the morning. Heart attacks are more likely to occur between the time you get up and when you eat breakfast, says Dr. Blumenthal. Your body gets an initial adrenaline rush, and strenuous exercise is more of a shock to your system, he says. That morning cup of coffee could raise your risk, too, as caffeine, like cold air, causes blood vessels to constrict and places an extra strain on your heart.

• Try to keep up with the snowfall. Don't wait for an entire storm system to dump all it's going to dump before you start shoveling. If it's feasible, shovel a few inches at a time so you're not stuck trying to clear 20 inches of snow all at once.

• Warm up. Shoveling snow should be treated like any other exercise: March or jog in place for a few minutes and stretch your arms, legs, and back muscles before you get started.

• Listen to your body. "If you start to feel really winded and tired, it makes good sense to slow down and take a few breaths," says Dr. Blumenthal.

• Exercise during the winter. One reason shoveling snow triggers heart attacks is that it's often done by sedentary people who don't get much exercise. When snow or cold weather keeps you trapped indoors, use an exercise DVD or spend a half hour walking or running up your stairs. You might also try one of those Wii Fit exercise programs, though you may want to modify the workout to get more exercise.

• Buy a Wovel. Yes, that's a word. Invented by some ecominded snowbirds, the Sno Wovel is a shovel attached to a wheel that allows you some extra leverage to lift heavy snow without putting a lot of extra strain on your heart or back—and without polluting the atmosphere.

Filed Under: GREENHOUSE GASES, HEART HEALTH

Published on: January 4, 2010



no real choice for me

As I am both a small motel owner and the sole caregiver for my ailing spouse I cannot risk either injury or heart attack, and the local options include plowing prices that are prohibitive or doing it myself with a power thrower. My driveway is entirely too large to do by hand, and out here in the boonies there are no 'kids next door' asking for work. So I compromised; I got a powerful, reliable machine which gets the job done as quickly as possible to do the major part of what needs doing. Once the worst is done I use the shovel for the finicky close-in work by the building. That takes as long as the thrower does to do the rest, but it cuts back on both the pollution and my health risks.

Snow removal alternatives

Two offbeat snow techniques

1. Use a large fixed tine garden rake, it will move snow without a lot of stress. When you get down to the sidewalk or drive, then your shovel can clean up the leftovers.

2. Use an electric leaf blower. I use my B&D Super Vac'n'Mulch to blow the snow from both walk and drive. This works for light snow which will fly easily, if the blower is making little snow balls, then the snow is too wet and you need plan A.

Hugh Crawford
Oshawa, Ontario

Welcome to Canada - The land of two seasons, Last Winter and This Winter.

you are dreaming

I would like anyone of you to come and blow my driveway and not have your heart rate go up. When I come in I am sweating a storm and I hurt. No not as much as shoveling but if you want the snow done properly you need to push that blower foreward and down. It is strenuous. The only no heart rate increase with a blower is a sit on tractor unit. A wlk behind is not easy.

I live in a snow belt in Northwestern Michigan. We average 4-6 inches a night. This past weekend until today we have gotten over 20 inches. Probably close to 24inches. No walk in the park.

That is since December 3rd we have had snow. We will probably stop getting snow somewhere around the 15th of April. I will gladly let someone come and leisurly walk behind my blower. You will do it right or do it over though.

Joe Deater
Lake ann Michigan

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