‘Tis the season for heavy snowfall, wet socks, and vigorous windshield ice scraping prior to early morning commutes. As I shoveled myself out of the latest Massachusetts fluffy fall, watching a young neighborhood entrepreneur knock on doors and offer clearings for cash, I contemplated why exactly my shoveling was taking so long.
What’s the secret to shoveling snow efficiently?
Is it as simple as buying the reinvented snow shovel?
For an average person, shoveling snow really is a high energy activity. It’s exercise. You breathe more oxygen, your heart rate pumps faster (from a resting rate of 60-100 beats to more like 150-190), and your blood pressure increases. It even feels like more work; In a study with 31 men, they rated shoveling snow for thirty minutes (at the rate of 12 loads lifted per minute) as an 18 on a scale of effort exerted, with 20 being the most hard.
The design of the shovel is one way to reduce the work. Researchers from upstate New York (insert snow joke here) wanted to look at the actual usage of different shovels to find out which was best. Twelve, right-handed college men were asked to use either a straight shovel or a bent-shaft one.
Measuring the men’s lumbar twisting and bending (less salacious than it sounds, thanks to computers), they found that as they shoveled pseudo-snow (actually “bags of loose material”), the bent shovel consistently stressed the body less. They also found while the straight shovel created complaints of lower and middle back discomfort, the bent shovel’s gripes were about the upper and lower left arm.
Most helpfully, a reduction in stress on parts of the trunk, and therefore the spine, was found to improve strength. So potentially, using a bent-handled shovel could allow for more snow per shovel, or for longer endurance.
But why shovel the snow? Why not just push it around? Researchers in Helsinki looked at the tradeoffs between using a snow shovel and a snow pusher.
Following nine men as they cleared snow, the researchers measured their heart rates and oxygen consumption. What they found will surprise anyone who has never used a snow pusher before but thinks they look quite nice: there was no significant difference in effort. Pushing or throwing snow required the same physical exertion.
So buy yourself a nice, bent shovel and settle in. It’s going to be a long winter.