Rake up the leaves this fall

Common Sense Health

What’s the most absurd image of healthy living? It’s a picture of a young woman using a leaf blower to clean up leaves in her yard while wearing ear protection, eye protection, and a mask covering her nose and mouth. The only thing that makes good sense is the mask.

It’s the leaf blower that is most offensive.

The first offense is the condoning of laziness. A leaf blower nearly eliminates the physical effort needed to clean up the leaves. In the past, we may have looked upon this as a good thing. Less work equals better life. False!

Raking up those leaves offers a wonderful cardio workout, in the lovely outdoors, resulting in the satisfaction of a job well done. It’s exercise that can be self-paced. The twisting and bending are nothing but good!

The second is environmental. Gas-powered leaf blowers spew pollutants at astounding rates. A remarkable study in 2011 compared a consumer-grade leaf blower to a 6,200-pound Ford F-150. The tests found that a 4-stroke leaf blower emitted “almost seven times more oxides of nitrogen (NOx) and 13.5 times more carbon monoxide (CO)” and a 2-stroke leaf blower emitted “23 times CO and nearly 300 times more non-methane hydrocarbons (NMHC)” than the pick-up truck.

One reporter calculated that the “hydrocarbon emissions from a half-hour of yard work with the two-stroke leaf blower are about the same as a 3,900-mile drive from Texas to Alaska.” Gulp.

How about noise pollution? These machines can produce levels between 80-92 decibels (dB), and sometimes over 100 dB for the operators. At a distance of the length of a semi-truck trailer, the noise can still measure over 70 dB. No wonder neighbours get annoyed.

Why do dangerously noisy leaf blowers exist? One wisecrack observer noted we allow it “for the same reason that builders made chimneys to be cleaned by starving, frightened orphan boys: it was not yet illegal.”

In fact, leaf blowers are banned in some cities and subject to increasing regulation across North America. But the pace of lawmaking is slow.

Removing the leaf blower from the scene, what about the mask worn by the woman in the picture? There may be good reason for this.

Fallen autumn leaves can be a haven for molds, pollen, and weeds that cause allergies. The plentiful fall pollen of ragweed, for example, travels far and can settle on all those leaves. Leaves dampened by rain or morning dew become a haven for mold. Raking up the leaves can send pollen and mold spores into the air, causing aggravation for asthma sufferers.

Dr. Purvi Parikh is an allergist and spokesperson with the Allergy and Asthma Network. “Most people associate allergies with spring, and often fall allergies get mistaken for viruses and other infections due to weather getting cold,” she notes. The distinguishing feature of an allergy is that it does not cause a fever. However, if an allergy leads to a sinus infection, a fever can result.

One more thought about those leaves. They are full of nutrients like carbon, nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium. These are the ingredients for healthy soil needed by productive gardens, beautiful landscapes, and all the grasses that are home and sources of food to diverse wildlife.

To see the picture of good health, look at those falling leaves with anticipation and admiration, not dread. The rake, a pair of gloves, and maybe a mask are the items to use this fall when tidying up the yard.

Remember moderation too. Raking leaves can be just as strenuous as shoveling snow. And that’s the next thing!Sign-up at www.docgiff.com to receive our weekly e-newsletter. For comments, contact-us@docgiff.com. Follow us on Instagram @docgiff and @diana_gifford_jones