The Health-Related Downside To Snow Storms

Spencer Platt/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Snow days are great; snow shoveling is not. It's more than just a back-breaking annoyance, though. Turns out, snow shoveling is bad for your heart. Like, actually. Thanks to a recent study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, what those of us cold-dwelling humans have suspected for a while has been confirmed: There's a definite link between snow storms and an increased, population-wide heart attack risk. Er, at least, there's an increase in heart attacks among men. So why is that? Guess. No, really — guess. Hint: Here's your reminder that hegemonic masculinity is bad for everyone.

It's been a widely disseminated fact that men are at a higher risk for cardiovascular disease, the umbrella term for all heart and circulation-related diseases, for a while. The contributing factors, though, are a combination of genetic and cultural elements. Biologically, higher levels of oestrogen in premenopausal women have been proven to increase levels of "good" cholesterol (high density lipoproteins), which protect against heart disease. But thanks to gender-based cultural beliefs, men are also expected to shoulder a number of stressful and physically demanding roles, which cause one's heart to wear out faster. Yep — the patriarchy is literally killing men.

Multiple studies have found that physically demanding jobs, like construction, paired with additional exercise off the clock, can actually raise the risk of heart disease significantly. In 2010, women made up less than nine percent of the construction and labor force.

In a 2012 study from University College London, work stress was found to raise risk of heart attack by 23 percent. A similar study from 2008 polled over 10,000 civil servants; once again, job stress was at the root of an increase in heart disease. And, oh, who continues to hold the majority of both high-demanding and civil service jobs?

Oh, yeah. Men.

That brings us to the snow shoveling study, led in part by Dr. Nathalie Auger, assistant clinical professor of social and preventive medicine at the University of Montreal. Every year between 1981 and 2014, Auger and her co-authors accumulated reports of 128,073 hospital admissions and 68,1555 heart attack deaths in Quebec from November to April. In addition, they collected weather information that corresponded with the appropriate time frames and geographic regions.

The scientists found that the most "dangerous" days fell directly after a major snowfall, with almost a third of the total cases occurring during that window. Men made up approximately 60 percent of the heart attack cases; their risks of being admitted or dying rose 16 and 34 percent, respectively, on days following heavy snowfall, regardless of their age or cardiovascular health.

Women, on the other hand, were not affected.

Though the team did not gather any information regarding gender roles and snow shoveling, the results did support their hypothesis that men are more likely to shovel after a storm, and that incredibly intensive physical labor (if you've ever shoveled you know the struggle) is responsible for the increased risk of heart attack following snow fall.

Given what we already know about how our culture views physical activities like snow shoveling, these results are troubling. I'd be interested to see a followup study that did expressly take a look at how traditional gender roles might play into the whole thing; it might shed some more light on how living in a patriarchal society affects our health (in general, the answer is usually, "not well").

And at the same time, now might be a good time to remind ourselves that feminism helps everyone. If pressure to follow traditional gender roles is part of the picture here, it's OK to buck the trend, no matter what our culture tells us. It's necessary, even. Maybe if we all shovel the proverbial snow of our society together, it will get a little easier to bear.

Too much? I'll show myself out.