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A Clean Start


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My butt is big and my house is dirty. So I leave my dirty house to go to the gym to lose the butt. But the gym is just as dirty as my house: reason No. 542 I hate the gym. It’s where you are supposed to get healthy, yet there are enough germs to re-start Ebola. Instead of towels, they ought to hand out hazmat suits.

Plus, while I am gymming, my house just gets dirtier. Dust particles settle down like old dogs. Spiders add flourishes to their cobwebs the size of parachutes. Mold colonizes the shower and sets its sights on conquering Mexico.
When your house is a mess, it makes you feel like your life is a mess: your work problems feel stickier than a pile of dishes, your love life messier than a warren of dust bunnies, even the wreckage from the floods in Northern Colorado seems more catastrophic. (More on that later).

My instinct, as a grown man with the ability to solve problems, is to smash all my mirrors and move houses. But since I am on a quest to find ways of getting exercise that don’t involve the gym—I have tried rec football, pedicabbing, babysitting and parkour—I am trying to see this not as a problem but as an opportunity. Could one combine cleaning and the gym? If you do two things you hate at the same time, is it twice as miserable?

A woman named Carolyn Barnes beat me to this punch. The L.A. mom has a whole fitness routine based on cleaning your house, called the cLean Momma Workout.

By doing lunges while she vacuumed and leg lifts while she washed dishes, she succeeded in making her friends laugh at her until they nearly cried. But! That is not the point. The point is that she lost 50 pounds. “You really get good abs by wiping down your counter,” she told me. She believes her routine could work for a bachelor. “Then you could have the abs to get a girl and not be embarrassed to have her over.”

Hercules cleaned out stables to prove his virility; cleaning is how Mr. Clean got muscular. For an hour, I followed Carolyn’s workout routine: wax-on, wax-off Windexing, squats while sweeping, and Carolyn’s patented “Rag Drag,” cleaning the floor by putting rags on your feet and doing a lower-body-only dance, more or less what Michael Flatley must be doing now that no one cares about. Overall, I kept a solid elevated heart rate above 110, ended with sweat stains on my shirt and a bit of soreness in my legs. I believe I got half a workout and cleaned half the house, which has to add up to one solid chore.

I ran the cLean Momma Workout by Robert Mazzeo, professor of Physiology at CU-Boulder, to see if he thinks it is a real workout.

“Not a big fan,” he said. It’s “just a gimmick.”

Mazzeo is clear: you need sustained exertion for at least 20 minutes. A cleaning workout is just too spotty.

With all workouts, mindset matters, and exer-cleaning is no different. A Harvard study says that if you think about cleaning as exercise, it can make it exercise. A group of hotel maids who were told that cleaning is exercise actually got slimmer, lighter and lowered their blood pressure more than hotel maids who were not told exercise is a workout. I told myself I was getting a workout, and now I feel every bit as a sexy as a cleaning lady. And the misery of cleaning was lessened, not increased, by adding a workout.

This is not the only kind of cleanup that can be done. Whoever runs the show these days, globally, has been messy. God—or whoever—forgot to turn the faucet off in September, and flooded half the state. It was just like when you let the tub overflow—toy boats went spilling everywhere, rubber duckies tossed—only up there it was real boats and real ducks. The dirtiest, filthiest mother around is Mother Nature.

Volunteers are on the scene to clean up after her—and get a workout at the same time. On a recent Sunday in El Dorado Canyon, about 45 volunteers gave eight hours of their time to clear debris. They moved about 36 cubic yards of wreckage—about two semi-trailers full. Maikel Wise, of Boulder, was one of those volunteers. He stood in the canyon, sweat-stained and sore, but satisfied. Said he got a good core workout. Jarret Roberts, Community Programs Director for the Wildlands Restoration Volunteers, which organized these and other cleanups, said he doesn’t even go to the gym anymore. And he’s buff. “People worked their butts off today,” he told me.

Professor Mazzeo says cleaning up after the floods “could be a decent workout.” And these guys and gals made a difference. The part of the El Dorado trail they spruced up is basically cleaner than my kitchen. It’s just one more example of the ways in which you can get fit without getting crammed into a gym.

Being a journalist, I did everything I could to help. Meaning that I interviewed them—which involved such arduous tasks as holding a recorder up to their mouth and then typing their words later. We all do what we can.

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