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The Gandhi Principle: Physical Work as a Fitness Tool

Updated on May 18, 2012

“the life of manual labor is the life of value”.

-Mahatma Gandhi

The Challenge of Exercise

I’ve been to a lot of gyms in my lifetime. I’ve owned treadmills, ellipticals, hand weights, work-out videos. I’ve jogged through city streets and country roads. And sure, there is a feeling of accomplishment at the end of any workout.

But these routines get boring so quickly. Predictable and uneventful. My muscles become accustomed, and I no longer feel that soreness that follows a job well done. It’s no wonder that exercise is a chore rather than a luxury! And when my time is limited already, it can be so hard to devote even 30 minutes to such a purely selfish task. For years I’ve struggled to maintain the motivation necessary to get regular exercise.

The Epiphany

And then something changed. My new husband and I moved to a house, a house on an acre of wild, unruly, unkempt land. The lawn was more moss than grass, the flowerbeds a haven for weeds. Veritable mountains of deadfall and pine needles lay strewn about from windstorms many years past.

Such work to be done! So much time and effort to be spent!

The first great working weekend came with the rental of a wood chipper, and I found myself in work boots and men’s leather gloves. Across every buried corner of our property I tromped, dragging logs and throwing branches like some great Amazonian woman, my skin scratched and mud-streaked, my hair in tufts of brambles and detritus. I was a wild thing! I was exhausted. At the end of the second day I fell to my couch like a dead creature, muscles only beginning to feel the extraordinary ache that would find me hobbling through the coming days.


“Ah? A small aversion to menial labor?" The doctor cocked an eyebrow. "Understandable, but misplaced. One should treasure those hum-drum tasks that keep the body occupied but leave the mind and heart unfettered.”

― Tad Williams, The Dragonbone Chair

A Change in My Thinking

It was brilliant. I was so proud of myself, so satisfied with our accomplishment, so impressed by the sheer labor I had undergone and calories I must have burned.

But soon the glow wore off, and I found myself wishing for more such challenges. And so it has become a lifestyle by choice for me, searching out projects that will challenge my body and improve my home. I find myself suddenly gravitating toward those exhausting chores I used to avoid, my approach to work now so entirely different.

How amazing that by simply changing my thinking I have transformed the nature of work.

I have found something therapeutic in hard work. The dual euphoria of accomplishing both physical exercise and a necessary task is truly satisfying. I am invigorated.

Now I am not saying that you mop your kitchen floor with a toothbrush. That would be a sad waste of time. I only wish to suggest that in this modern day full of electronic and motorized shortcuts, why not cut back on that electricity bill and work up a sweat while you’re at it? Put down the leaf-blower and try using a good old rake or push broom. You may be surprised by how natural it feels.


"Nothing ever comes to one that is worth having except as a result of hard work."

- Booker T. Washington

Suggestions to Get Started With

  • Sweep and mop. Avoid those Swiffer mops, way too easy! Put your back in to it.
  • Wash the windows, both inside and out. This is a big one, it can take forever! You’ll feel the burn in your arms and shoulders.
  • Rake! Another great one for the arms. Rake leaves, pine needles, petals. Trade in the rake for a snow shovel in the winter and clear that driveway.
  • Walk the dogs. Walk them twice a day! Convince yourself that you're doing it for them.
  • Wash your car. Use a hose, a bucket, and a big old sponge and scrub it like you stole it.
  • Dust EVERYTHING. Do it quickly and energetically. Play music that makes you want to dance.
  • Moss in the lawn? Rake it out by hand. Reseed.
  • Throw on some gloves and go pick up litter wherever you can find it. Don't bend over to pick things up, SQUAT every time. Or at least until your legs give out.

Calories: Let's Crunch Numbers

Calories burned in 30 minutes
Digging dirt or stacking wood
Shoveling snow
Cleaning gutters
Scrubbing bathtub
Raking leaves
Washing windows


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    • SouthernHoney profile image

      SouthernHoney 5 years ago from Woodinville, WA


      Exactly my thoughts! I’m with you on the walks though. You sound very much like me with your camera, I have to take that thing everywhere. Thanks for your comment!

    • SouthernHoney profile image

      SouthernHoney 5 years ago from Woodinville, WA


      What an opportune time! Thanks so much for reading and for the positive feedback.

    • SouthernHoney profile image

      SouthernHoney 5 years ago from Woodinville, WA

      That's so cool, xstatic! I'm glad you did share, well done. I need to do some more planting myself; I want to be overrun with tomatoes this year.

    • Pollyannalana profile image

      Pollyannalana 5 years ago from US

      That is how I have always gotten most of my exercise most of my life. Who has time for exercise! I do walk for fun a lot though since I love taking photos. Very interesting and useful hub!

    • Jenna Pope profile image

      Jenna Pope 5 years ago from Southern California

      This is a very practical article. Funny -- I read it while I was procrastinating on doing house work. Voted up. Well done!

    • xstatic profile image

      Jim Higgins 5 years ago from Eugene, Oregon

      After getting our grow boxes ready, planting tomatoes, peppers and zucchini yesterday, I feel like a new man, so came back to share this one.

    • SouthernHoney profile image

      SouthernHoney 5 years ago from Woodinville, WA

      Ha! Well xstatic, I can’t say that I blame you. Getting started on a big old project can be a little daunting ;)

    • xstatic profile image

      Jim Higgins 5 years ago from Eugene, Oregon

      This is great! I can't say that my enthusiasm for working in the yard has ever been as great as yours, but pushing that mower, all that walking behind it, two walks a day for the dog is great exercise.

      Whew! Reading about all that work has made me hungry, better have luch, then maybe a nap, just kidding.