by Robert Miller

The News Times – Danbury Connecticut

October 21, 2008

The peak autumn season, when the colors of the trees — the smoky reds, the russets, the sulfur yellows — compensate for all the grey winter days to come, doesn’t last long and you are left with a thick coverlet of leaves on your lawn, waiting to be harvested.

The question is: How should one go about the gathering?

You could use a leaf blower. If it is a gas-powered blower, you stand a good chance of ruining the season for everyone on your block.

“The sound of a leaf blower has been described as a dentist’s drill gone berserk,” said Ted Rueter of Noise Free America, which advocates for a quieter country. “A lot of suburbs right now are leaf-blower hell.”

There is a different technology however, that is quiet and clean. It does not burn fossil fuels. It does not spew two-cycle exhaust around the neighborhood. Using this technology, you can not only clean up your lawn, but also hear the migrating Canada geese honking as they fly high above. And it will make you healthier.

It’s called a rake.

Sam Heelan, 44, of Brookfield is a fan. While admitting to resorting to a blower to clean the edges of his yard, he sticks to old-fashioned ways for the broader expanses.

“I can work early in the morning and not bother my neighbors,” Heelan said. “And all the kids get involved, down to the 7-year-old.”

Raking can be seen as a mundane chore. But it is outdoor activity that is cheap, easy and not likely to cause you to blow out a knee.

“It involves walking. It’s upper body exercise as well,” said Dr. Brian Riordan, a physiatrist with Danbury Hospital said last week. “If you are basically healthy, it shouldn’t be a problem.”

Raking is the equivalent of taking a brisk walk, according to AARP. Along with upper body exercise, it helps strengthen the back and stomach.

It also burns calories — a 135-pound person can burn about 240 calories in an hour of leaf cleaning.

Jaci VanHeest, an associate professor in kinesthetics at the University of Connecticut at Storrs, uses METs — metabolic equivalents — as a measure. One MET is the energy a body consumes at rest.

“Raking is four METs,” VanHeest said. “Using a leaf blower is two. So raking gives you a lot more exercise.”

VanHeest said looking at what a person does may be a key to the quality of life they lead.

“We really need a paradigm shift, away from ‘exercise’ to ‘physical activity’,” she said.

Those physical activities — gardening, wood chopping, raking, using a push mower rather than a riding mower, shoveling snow — may not require any exercise clothes or club memberships, she said. But they are chores that some people like to do and are satisfying emotionally, as well as giving a good workout.

“We can use the term ‘exercise’ and people can shy away,” she said. “But say ‘Go rake the lawn with the grandkids,’ and that’s different. That what a lot of average people would rather do.”

And, while raking up the red and yellow, you get to be green.

Gov. M. Jodi Rell has begun a campaign to urge state residents to do “One Thing” to combat global warming, arguing that millions of small, one things can add up to a lot of energy savings and reduced greenhouse gas emissions.

Lawn raking fits into that category. That’s because gas-powered leaf blowers are little giants of pollution.

The Spokane Regional Clean Air Agency in Washington said the average two-stroke gas engine on a leaf blower, running for a hour, emits about the same pollution that a car does driving 350 miles. The pollution gets confined, though, in one neighborhood rather than long stretches of highway.

That forces people using leaf blowers to breath in an unhealthy mix of carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxide and particulate matter. Leaf blowers also kick up a lot of dust, and mold spores, the Spokane clean air agency points out. That’s not great for breathing either.

And, they contribute to noise pollution. Rueter, of Noise Free America, based in Madison, Wisc., said noise levels become irritating at 85 decibels. Leaf blowers clock in at 110 decibels.

Rueter said leaf blowers are a trend that people seem to follow blindly.

“We tend to want to use a high-tech device that’s more expensive and that annoys people rather than something older, and simpler that does the same job,” he said.

And raking?

“It’s a small chore that makes great sense,” VanHeest said.

Contact Robert Miller

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or at (203) 731-3345
Raking tips Raking a lawn seems to be a pretty straightforward affair. But here are some tips, courtesy of AARP and Dr. Brian Riordan of Danbury Hospital. Wear layers — once you work up a sweat on a cool day, it’s easy to peel off a windbreaker or jacket. Warm up a little. Raking does use all the muscles of the body, so a little walking and stretching before you start is a good thing. Move well. Posture counts. Keep your legs wide apart, and try not to twist your back, Stand straight and rake with your whole body. Switch sides to avoid repetitive stress. Rake right handed for 10 minutes, then switch to your left. If you are elderly, watch your step. Don’t trip on roots or branches. Know your limits. If you have a bad back or shoulder, and raking will aggravate the injury, get someone else to do your lawn cleaning. Be sensible. Don’t try to rake your entire 2-acre lawn in a day. Take breaks, which give your muscles time to relax At the end of the day, do some more stretching. Take a hot bath, if you need it.