After I committed a teenage transgression (we won’t go into details here) when I was 15, my dutiful mother handed down my punishment: “Go outside and…and…and RAKE THE YARD!” she said in a huff. “ALL DAY!” she added for good measure.
Given that it was fall and we had two dozen towering oak trees in our yard, believe me when I tell you there were a lot of leaves to be raked. After that long day, I viewed raking as a penalty, a sentence to be dreaded. For years, even decades, I considered raking (and yard work in general) to be a penance for my wrongdoings, my disobedience, my childhood crimes.
You know what I’m talking about. Raking, shoveling, mowing, lugging around bags of mulch or topsoil, sweeping the driveway—Ugh!!!
But I changed my tune a few years ago one late afternoon on a crisp fall day. On that day, dried sweat caked me from head to toe. My arms and legs were drained, like I’d been pumping iron. I was sapped, a blob of jelly as I sat in a comfy armchair inside my home.
I hadn’t been bicycling or playing tennis or anything that could be considered fun. Rather, I’d been raking and bagging leaves for hours on end, just like when I was 15. But rather than feeling like I’d gone through some punishment, I was at ease, clear-headed and even happy. “Wow,” I thought. “That was a great workout.”
These days, I no longer look upon chores as some reviled annoyance. Instead, I think of them as exercise. I won’t go so far as to say they’re fun, but I now view chores as exercise sessions, not laborious tasks that have to be done. In my mind, my yard has become a fitness center.
Mowing the lawn is like walking on a treadmill. Raking leaves, that over-and-over repetitive motion, is like lifting dumbbells.
Shoveling is also like lifting weights—really heavy weights when the snow is saturated and heavy. Stooping over to fill those heavy-duty paper bags with leaves strengthens my legs, back and arms. Ditto with lifting bags of mulch and topsoil into my wheelbarrow. So nowadays, I think of these things as workouts, like going to the gym, taking a brisk walk or riding my bike.
Doctors say, for a person my size, raking and bagging leaves can burn 350–450 calories per hour. Shoveling snow is 300–600 calories. Mowing my lawn will burn 300–400 calories, and maybe more since I have a steep hill in my backyard. Even planting my garden and pulling weeds can burn 200–400 calories. And, like a workout, I feel a sense of satisfaction when I’m done.
Given the choice, of course, I’ll take a bike ride or a tennis match or 45 minutes in the fitness center over mowing the lawn or pruning my bushes. But if I can deceive my brain into turning my yard duties into exercise to be enjoyed—not the unpleasant undertakings they once were—that’s fine by me.
It’s not just yard chores that burn calories, of course; indoor household tasks do the same. But I’m capable of fooling my brain only so far. As far as I’m concerned, it’ll be a cold day in hell before I think of scrubbing the bathtub, mopping, vacuuming or sweeping as enjoyable or exercise to be relished.
But the next time somebody tells me they have yard work to be done, I’ll say: “Have a good workout!”
Clarke Canfield is a longtime journalist, writer and editor who likes to be active. He is the communications director at Southern Maine Community College.