Tips will help make raking less physically taxing
Ah, the joys of fall! Apple cider, cinnamon doughnuts and the colors – sometimes the hues of the changing leaves can take away your breath.
Raking and disposing all of those beautiful leaves can also take your breath away.
Raking leaves is considered moderate physical activity, similar to a brisk walk, Barbara Ainsworth, an exercise epidemiologist at San Diego State University, told AARP. It helps build upper-body strength, as well as core strength, or strength in your back and stomach.
Raking leaves causes your core – or trunk – to work, stabilizing your body while your arms are moving. Ainsworth said a 135-pound person could burn about 240 calories raking leaves for an hour.
But overdoing it can cause muscle and back pain – or worse. AARP offers these tips to prevent leaf-raking injuries.
Wear layers. It won’t be too long into the raking that you’re likely to work up a sweat. By layering your clothing, you can remove a windbreaker or jacket to avoid overheating. If you layer properly, you won’t get cold in the process.
Warm up. You should warm up your muscles before you start working them, just as in any form of exercise. Raking uses muscles in your arms, chest, shoulders, legs, and upper and lower back — almost all the muscles in your body, says James Weinstein, chairman of the Department of Orthopedics at Dartmouth Medical School. He recommends walking around the yard, doing some circular arm movements, bending forward and backward and to each side. You might even want to do some gentle stretching before sweeping up those leaves.
Stand and move correctly. As in most cases, posture is a key element in raking. Weinstein recommends 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. And move your body while raking instead of twisting your spine, not going farther than your feet will allow. Try to stand as straight as possible.
Switch sides. You might tend to rake with one side of your body, but that could increase the danger of injury. Raking uses the same muscles over and over. Try switching sides every 10 minutes or so, suggests Boyd Buser, associate dean of clinical affairs at the University of New England College of Osteopathic Medicine. 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. You’re not in a race, unless the city is picking up your leaves at 8 a.m. and you start raking at 7:45. This is especially the case if you aren’t usually physically active. Take a break every 20 minutes or so. Keep hydrated and do some stretching, giving the muscles you have suddenly started using 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, take up the offer. A warm bath works, too.
Now that the raking is over, you have to protect your body from another possible back-straining activity: bagging leaves. This chore can involve awkward bending and stooping, says Buser. 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.
- If you’re using a tarp and dragging leaves to a curb, don’t overload it. And don’t twist your body when you’re pulling the tarp. If possible, have someone grab an opposite end to help you move the leaves.
- Don’t try to bag all the leaves at once. You may even want to save the bagging for another day since you put your back at greater risk of injury by lifting right after raking.
Now that you have the technique down, here are the yard-waste collection schedules in Greater Lansing communities:
The city of Lansing has a variety of options to either rid yourself of leaves or turn them into helpful compost.
If curbside pickup is desired, place leaves and other organic yard waste materials in paper yard waste bags, which can be purchased at grocery and convenience stores. Bags weighing more than 30 pounds will not be collected.
Another method of leaf collection is to compost leaves and other organic material in a backyard compost pile or bin. Over a period of time the leaves will be transformed into a nutrient-rich compost that can build up your garden soil. In addition to leaves, acceptable composting materials include coffee grounds, fruit peelings garden waste, grass clippings and vegetable waste.
Option No. 3 is to mulch your leaves. Shredding your leaves gives you a material to place around flowers, bushes and trees. Mulching provides nutrients to plants and soil, helps control insects and plant disease, keeps the soil warmer in the winter and reduces the need for weeding.