Rake What Yo’ Mama Gave You!

health benefits of raking leaves

There’s a lot to love about fall: crisp air, apple cider, football games, and even those leaves piling up on your front lawn. That’s because raking leaves gives you a perfect opportunity to get outside, get some fresh air, and get in a workout — all at the same time, not to mention that your yard will look great when you’re done.

Not only is it a good workout, but it also helps to clear out the air and get rid of allergens. Raking leaves can also help to improve your cardiovascular health and reduce your risk of heart disease.  Raking leaves is considered moderate physical activity, similar to a brisk walk. It helps build upper-body strength, as well as core strength, or strength in your back and stomach. As you’re raking, your core (or trunk) is working to stabilize your body while your arms are moving. A 135-pound person could burn about 240 calories raking leaves for an hour.

So what are you waiting for? Get outside and rake some leaves! Here are some tips for how to make the most of this autumn activity.

Wear layers.

It might be cool when you first head out the door, but you’ll work up a sweat after you’ve been raking a while. You can peel off a windbreaker or jacket so you don’t get overheated if you’re wearing a sweatshirt or sweater underneath.

Warm up & don’t forget to stretch.

Before you start raking, take a few minutes to stretch your upper body and warm up your muscles. This will help prevent injury and improve your performance. Raking uses muscles in your arms, chest, shoulders, legs, and upper and lower back — almost all the muscles in your body. Try walking around the yard, doing some circular arm movements, bending forward and backward, and to each side. You can follow that with some gentle stretches.

Stand and move correctly.

Pay attention to your raking posture. Try forming a wide base with your feet and holding the rake slightly toward the end of the handle with one hand and three-quarters of the way down the handle with the other. Be careful not to twist your spine. Instead, move your whole body (think of a rotating chair), not going farther than your feet will allow. Keep your back naturally aligned — try to stand as straight as you comfortably can.

Switch sides.

People tend to rake on one side of their body, which increases the risk of injury since raking uses the same muscles to do the same movement over and over. To avoid overuse injury, try switching sides every few minutes. Try raking 10 minutes left-handed and another 10 minutes right-handed, This will help balance out the stress and strain to the lower back that happens from pulling off to the side instead of directly in front of you. It also distributes the strain on your arms and shoulders evenly on both sides.

Take it easy.

Take your time, especially if you don’t normally do yard work or aren’t very physically active. Don’t try to rake the whole yard at once. Stop and take a break after 10 or 20 minutes. Have some water and do some stretching. The breaks give the muscles you’ve been using repeatedly a chance to relax.

Cool down.

When you’re done raking, do some more stretching to help relax tense muscles. If someone offers to give you a massage, say “yes.” A warm bath works, too.

Bagging Leaves

Now that the raking is over, you have to protect your body from another possible back-straining activity: bagging leaves. Bagging leaves can involve awkward bending and stooping. If you have to stoop over, try to face forward rather than stooping and twisting to one side, which strains the back.

Here are some leaf-bagging don’ts:

  • Don’t lift bags with your back. Bend your knees and lift with your leg muscles.
  • Don’t overfill bags so they become too heavy to lift. Try dragging the bags or using a wheelbarrow if you have to move them long distances.
  • Don’t be a super hero and try to bag all the leaves at once. Pace yourself and tackle leaves in several sections. Better yet, save the bagging for another day since you put your back at greater risk of injury by lifting right after raking.
  • Too many leaves to bag? As an alternative to bagging, consider composting your leaves or using them as mulch to cover your garden for the winter.

That’s a wrap…for now. Remember, raking leaves can give you a great workout and improve your overall health — just make sure to follow safe techniques and listen to your body. Happy leaf-raking!

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