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.