Add this to the list of things too scary and difficult for modern homo sapiens to handle: shoveling snow. According to an article brought to my attention recently by a friend of mine, it’s a mortally dangerous activity, and shouldn’t even be considered by anyone over the age of 55. The issue, it seems, is that clearing your driveway so you can make it to work in the morning is too “taxing” on the heart.
At the root of this faux-peril is the chilling statistic that every winter, about 100 people die while shoveling snow. Pardon my lack of panic, but 100 people out of 320 million just isn’t that many. For reference, you’re more likely to be killed by some sort of animal, ten times more likely to be shot dead by the police, and 50 times more likely to die from that gas station sushi you picked up on the way home from work.
It’s clear that the article is fearmongering in order to get page views, and well, mission accomplished. I read it. But what blows me away is that a whole lot of people, including my friend, took the article as good advice. From his perspective, it makes sense: he works in an emergency department where he spends all day (and most of the night) putting people back together after they’ve messed themselves up doing stupid human things. His is a business that wants fewer customers, and that’s as it should be.
Are We Really This Fragile?
But how did we get to the point that common household chores are cause to stop and think about our mortality risk? What’s next, hiring somebody to fold your laundry? When did we come to accept a level of fragility so pathetic that some fluffy white stuff could leave you stranded in your home until some enterprising neighborhood kid comes along to rescue you?
In a shining example of everything that’s wrong with science and medicine, a cardiologist named Barry Franklin has been paid actual dollars to become “an expert in the hazardous effects of snow removal.” That’s right, he’s using his lengthy, expensive education and state-of-the-art lab equipment to find out what’s killing an almost imperceptible percentage of the American population. And rather than concluding that the answer is to become a little harder to kill, his advice is to just stop doing stuff.
I can’t think of a more backward and counterproductive message coming from the lips of someone who allegedly specializes in preventative cardiology. His advice confirms the view that many Americans hold, which is that moving is bad, exercise is worse, and physical labor should be avoided at any cost. The same view, it should be said, that has landed us in the middle of a public health crisis as pervasive and devastating as it is absurd.
Get Strong Enough to Survive
As I’ve written before in Calm Down, It’s Not That Complicated, the greatest threat to our happy existence isn’t the kipping pull up; nor is it shoveling snow. The things that are sending us to early graves by the hundreds of thousands are sedentarism and the worst diet science could possibly devise. But rather than take aim at these obvious, enormous, devastating issues, let’s just tell people to avoid one more thing that could get them outside and moving a few times a year.
We were once a rollicking, hardy population that won back to back World Wars and then sent people to the moon. In only a few decades, we’ve degraded to become a soft, pink, squishy, whiny bunch that cowers with their hot cocoa at the onset of flurries. What a sad state of affairs.
Look, if you have an actual heart condition, I’m not here to get between you and the advice of your medical professional. If you’ve been sedentary for the past few decades and literally only get off your ass to go buy more Taco Bell, maybe it’s best you don’t jump straight into clearing that four-foot drift the snowplow left at the bottom of your driveway. All I’m saying is that if you have to contemplate whether there’s a real possibility that doing so could kill you, it’s probably way past time to reevaluate your life and your priorities.
However you choose to define your fitness, the ability to deal with the reality of day-to-day life should be included on the list. Our conflation of the concepts of age and frailty has no backing in scientific literature or anthropological study; it is a social construct. We become unable to handle physical challenge because we choose to avoid it, and for no other reason. We need to fight back against the bogeymen created by the media that tell us what we want to hear, and instead pursue levels of strength, health, and vitality that enable us to actually live life for as long as we are alive.
If you need me, I’ll be standing in my driveway, shovel in hand, staring at the sky and daring it to snow.