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Adventures in Food and Fitness: A frugal exercise program that really pays off

According to most estimates, you can burn about one calorie per pound of body weight for every half hour spent raking. (Photo illustration by Bob Caylor of The News-Sentinel)
According to most estimates, you can burn about one calorie per pound of body weight for every half hour spent raking. (Photo illustration by Bob Caylor of The News-Sentinel)
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.The Associated Press
Monday, November 11, 2013 12:01 am
Like a famous plantation in “Gone With the Wind,” we've got 12 oaks — each a giant organic factory working overtime right now to bury us in leaves.This used to be a major hassle. Even after the energy boost that accompanied a 90-pound weight loss, leaf cleanup seemed like an endless task.

It wasn't until I discovered the writings of frugal philosopher Jeff Yeager, aka The Ultimate Cheapskate, that I began to see the appeal of leaf rustling.

For a guy in his early 50s, Yeager is incredibly fit, maintaining his college weight along with a resting pulse that matches his age and a body fat percentage that barely cracks double digits. He attributes his good health to a fitness regimen he calls “money step aerobics” — essentially, embracing physical labor rather than hiring it out or buying labor-saving devices.

In Yeager's case, labor-saving devices include gas-powered vehicles; he does much of his traveling by bike, recently surpassing 100,000 lifetime miles.

“I bicycle a lot, so I get a good cardio and leg workout through that,” said Yeager, author of four frugal living books, including his most recent, “How to Retire the Cheapskate Way.” But his favorite money step aerobics exercise, he says, is raking leaves and grass.

“I find that vigorous raking (and picking up and hauling what you rake) is a great way to work on the upper half of my body,” explained the Toledo native, who now lives in Washington D.C., in an e-mail. “Fortunately we have 4 acres of yard, so there's always plenty of stuff that needs raking.”

According to most estimates, you can burn about one calorie per pound of body weight for every half hour spent raking. That means a 150-pound person could jettison 50 calories in just 10 minutes — and if you weigh more than that, the total only goes up.

Every fall, I re-read part of Yeager's first book, “The Ultimate Cheapskate's Road Map to True Riches,” to psyche myself up for raking leaves. In a 2011 blog interview Yeager answered my questions about his unique fitness program, along with his “Amazing Cheapskate Diet.”

Here's a condensed version that hits the highlights:

Q: Is there any correlation between the amount of money you save with “money step aerobics” and the number of calories you burn?

A: Sure, if you approach it correctly, there clearly is. Walking or bicycling for nearby errands is a simple example. Doing more things for yourself — house cleaning, washing your own car, mowing your own lawn, etc. — rather than paying others to do things for you are other examples. And if you belong to a health club, my advice is to buy a used bicycle at the thrift store, then pedal it on over to your club and cancel your membership. You'll save money not only on club fees, but gas/car costs, and be even more fit than when you belonged to the gym.

Q: Your “Amazing Cheapskate Diet” (“transfers weight from thighs to wallet!”) is based on eating the most nutritious, cost-effective food. You've written that you strive to never pay more than $1 a pound for anything, which tilts your diet toward seasonal produce, cheaper meats like chicken and dairy foods. Do you pay much attention to portion sizes, or do you figure it's healthy food and you get a lot of exercise, so there's no cause to fret about that?

A: I love to eat, and have always had a healthy appetite. Limiting portions is tough for me. I find it's easier to not worry about portions, but rather focus on what those portions consist of. I eat large volumes of fruits and veggies (probably 10 servings a day) — especially things like fruit smoothies, melons, grapefruit, etc. I find them satisfying, and they're both cheap and healthy.

I know for a fact that I could consume similar volumes of meat and cheese if I let myself. But I fill up on the stuff that's healthier and cheaper before I move on to dairy and meat.

Q: Do you really eat no junk food? What if it's on sale — or free?

A: I eat very little “junk food.” I'm fortunate in that I've never really had a taste for it, perhaps because my parents rarely ever had it around the house when I was growing up. I have no sweet tooth whatsoever, and while like most humans I like the taste of salt and fat, I find it more satisfying to get it through whole foods rather than processed snack foods.

Q: What's your biggest weakness, food-wise? How do you keep it under control?

A: Cheese is my Achilles heel. Someone asked me once if I was stuck on a desert island and could only have one thing (including a person) with me, what would it be? My answer, without hesitation: Brie.

Beer is another weakness. In terms of controlling those passions: Fill up on healthier stiff first, and force yourself to do penance via exercise when you do indulge.

One of the best New Years resolutions I ever made — and one of the few I've ever kept — is to “spend at least as much time being good as I spend being bad.” So, if I really want to have a beer, I force myself to pedal down to the corner market on my bicycle to buy one.


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