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Eco-tip: chores can be good for the environment and your health

This week's tip from the 52 Weeks Climate Action Challenge is to embrace chores and manual tools as exercise
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This regular column on tips to live more sustainably comes from the 52 Weeks Climate Action Challenge. The challenge was created by Laurel Hood and Sherri Jackson. Hood is a retired Collingwood Collegiate Institute teacher, and Jackson is a writer and speaker, and ran as the Green Party’s candidate for the area in the last federal election. Both are climate activists. 

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Have you ever wondered why going to the gym, or working out was never really a thing until about 1970? Then it took off in the 80s, when Jane Fonda and Richard Simmons transformed us by showing us how to really sweat it out. In true 80s fashion of excess and glam, we pushed to the extreme while building “buns of steel” in our neon leg warmers. That did us all a disservice, because it implied that being regularly active wasn’t enough. No pain, no gain, rather than being active in your daily life. 

The obesity epidemic is one of the biggest health challenges Canadians have faced. In the 1970s (before the fitness craze), our obesity rate was 9.7 per cent. In 2015, Obesity Canada rated it at 30 per cent, or 1 in 3 Canadians. That’s an astounding increase.

Many of us have jobs that involve long hours sitting in front of a computer. With our pandemic normal, that’s become even more so, with endless zoom meetings and webinars. We are also time-pressed, and many of the things our ancestors used to do, we no longer do. Often we grab meals on the go or buy pre-packaged, instead of making something at home. With so much automation in our homes, there are fewer calories burned in regular tasks. 

We can build back some of these regular activities if we look at them as “exercise” rather than “chores.” There’s even a term for it: non-activity exercise thermogenesis (NEAT). It includes anything you do that burns calories outside of eating, sleeping, or training. For instance, did you know vacuuming for 30 minutes burns on average 130 calories? Cleaning your house actually burns as much energy as a gym workout (neon leg warmers optional). WebMD has lots of tips on how to incorporate NEAT into your daily routine, and, the good news? No membership fees.

“Wait a minute,” you say, “I thought this challenge was about reducing carbon?” Did you know, green lawns have been called an “ecological catastrophe.” In the US, it’s estimated between 16 billion and 41 billion pounds of CO2 is emitted from lawnmowers each year. One litre of gasoline burned in a lawnmower emits five pounds of CO2. Reducing our lawn space is one way to address it, or naturalizing part of your lot. Another is to consider battery-powered maintenance equipment. It’s untrue that battery-powered isn’t as good as gas-powered. We recently bought a battery chainsaw, which my husband says is the best tool he’s ever owned. It cuts up to 100 12” logs on one charge. It’s virtually silent, odourless, starts instantly, and safer, because it’s only live when you press the trigger. 

Challenge 15: Go old school in your yard
Get your daily exercise and tackle some necessary chores at the same time. Use a manual push mower, manual hedge clippers, rakes, and shovels to get the yard work done. Sweep your driveway instead of using a leaf blower. If you don’t have manual tools, see if you can borrow some to try it out. If you don’t have a yard see if someone near you needs help. 

It’s always more inspiring when you have someone to help you. So, invite a friend or a family member to help out. Work always goes by faster when you’re chatting with someone you enjoy. My mom invites my niece to help her a few times a week. She gets to spend time with her grandchild, teaching her by example how to care for a garden, and connecting together. They’re growing an amazing veggie garden, and amazing memories at the same time. 

Like all our challenges, this week gives us a chance to slow down, tune in, save money, get healthier and reduce our carbon footprint all at the same time. Get some sunshine, enjoy some fresh air, and afterwards, put up your feet and admire a good day’s work.

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