I RECENTLY ATTENDED a presentation by Dian Griesel, co-author of Turbocharged. The book, an approach to a healthy diet and weight loss, offers common sense recommendations at times, but is controversial at others. Drink more water, for example, is a straightforward suggestion. But Griesel says to drink several glasses of water in the morning instead of eating breakfast, contending that what we experience as hunger upon waking is actually thirst.
Around midday, eat at all of the fruits and vegetables you want, she says — but don’t mix fruit with fats (such as nuts) and eat the whole fruit rather than just its juice. Eat protein for dinner, not grains. Be more conscious of the sugar hidden in your diet, especially in processed foods. Her goal is to help people interested in losing weight to reduce their body fat, not muscle. Once people attain their ideal weight, the diet can help maintain it.
Like most prescribed diets, I don’t agree with all of it. But when it comes to exercise, I like Griesel’s preference for household chores over going to the gym. Whether vacuuming your rooms or weeding your garden, time devoted to physical work is readily available to almost everyone, and can be done inexpensively. Which brings me to my lawn mower.
A year ago, I wrote about my switch from a power mower to a hand-pushed reel one in My Grass Addiction. Mowing my lawn last weekend, fresh from Griesel’s talk and well into my second season, I experienced firsthand the simple beauty of this means of getting fit.
Pushing the reel mower around the yard is physically harder and takes longer than a gas-powered machine, which makes it an anachronism in our modern culture of speed, ease, and convenience. These native tendencies have their virtues, but so do others less easily exploited by Madison Avenue. The convenience we “buy” with our machines requires the inconvenience of raising the income to afford them, and often comes at the expense of our sensory experience.
WITH THE REEL MOWER, the lawn is unforgiving. It can be hard work. The grass has to be crossed from a different angle for every week missed; it cannot simply be swept under a fine, even carpet at a single pass, like the one left by a rotary mower.
Unable to mow during last week’s rain, I was met with a daunting mass of grass when I began mowing Saturday afternoon. The job took several sessions to complete, and I did not finish until Sunday around dusk, hot and sweaty.
It felt good, though. I got aerobic workouts both days, and mowing uses both upper and lower body muscles. I accomplished something while I exercised, and was able to appreciate the results of my effort after the fact, walking through the freshly-cropped yard.
Through most of human history, we have had to rely as much on our physical as mental selves. The gym has its time and place, but owes its existence to our need to compensate for increasingly sedentary lives. Pushing a hand-mower in suburbia is a long way away from slaying a mastadon, true. Still, we are hard-wired for utilitarian exercise.
But hand-mowing exercises my brain, too. I had extended time to think, and came up with several new ideas for a major project. I doubt they would have surfaced with the constant roar, toxic smell, and aimless speed of a power mower. The ideas needed time to develop, and an environment conducive to contemplation.
I have had to relax my pre-push mower standards. My lawn is not universally short and smooth. I don’t want to let it get out of hand again, or the prospect of catching back up may become daunting.
But I take some satisfaction in not spending money on gasoline, and creating little noise or air pollution doing this primarily aesthetic task. Mostly, I need and welcome hand-mowing’s physical demands, and appreciate the full use of my senses. I cherish the time to think, unforced and uninterrupted.
It’s year two of hand-pushed mowing, and it continues to provide excellent value for the time it requires.