Making Good Health Simple: Spring cleaning: It’s good for your health (it’s true!)

Does your fridge look like this? The truth is, you probably don't even know until you purge the whole thing as part of your spring cleaning ritual.  Courtesy of Crystal Reynolds
Does your fridge look like this? The truth is, you probably don't even know until you purge the whole thing as part of your spring cleaning ritual. Courtesy of Crystal Reynolds

Just as bears hibernate for the winter, so does hardcore cleaning. The open-the-windows-because-it-smells-like-bleach kind of cleaning. I’ll admit it, when it’s dark before you drive home from work, it is natural to order take-out on the nights you’re not eating homemade mac and cheese. But, alas, spring is making its debut, and with natural sunlight comes the clarity of dust and cobwebs. The horrifying realization of how unclean your house is, combined with the pending holidays – spring cleaning is a must.

If you participate in this ritual, like I do, we are in good company. According to many historians, this type of cleaning may have religious roots. It is believed that Christians would clean starting at Palm Sunday in preparation for Easter, while Jews scrubbed their homes before Passover. Another logical explanation for this ceremonial cleaning originates from when homes were “heated with coal, lit by oil lamps, and sealed shut against cold winter winds, spring marked the opportunity to open doors and windows, air everything out and wash a house of months’ worth of built-up smoke and soot.”

Spring cleaning can come in many forms. Sometimes it’s a complete kitchen purge (can we say outdated spices?), a room makeover, or donating the shoes you haven’t worn in 3 years. Other times it is scrubbing the fridge, steaming the carpets, changing air filters or washing the windows. Don’t worry, this task has also many treasure-finding benefits. For me, I always find things that I thought I lost, things I forgot I had – and lots of things I should throw away.

The most obvious health benefit of cleaning is the exercise you are getting. I know when I go on a cleaning frenzy I go up and down the stairs and to the basement and back over a dozen times. More stairs equals more calories burned. According to health coach Chiara Kramer, an average 30 minutes of vacuuming can burn up to 111 calories for men and 94 calories for women. People who are motivated to keep their homes clean tend to be more driven to invest in their overall physical fitness. She suggests if you’re feeling sluggish, 20 minutes of low-intensity workout (like cleaning) three times a week can increase your overall energy levels by 20 percent and reduce your fatigue by up to 65 percent.

Spring cleaning has additional major health benefits, too. When your home is closed up tight, well-insulated and pumped with heat all winter long, that recycled air can become dangerous. Jennifer McDonnell, MD, of Rush University Medical Center, says that a spring cleanup will help you breathe better. If you’re prone to allergies or asthma attacks when spring rolls around, don’t assume pollen is the only culprit. She reminds us that dust and pet dander are powerful asthma triggers, especially in children. With the right dusting strategies and vacuum cleaner tricks, your airways will open up in no time. A thorough spring cleaning improves the air quality of your home and your respiratory health.

Are you a shoe-free house? I dream of that day. No matter how many signs I print, laminate and hang on the door, or the super-organized shoe bins labeled with each person’s name I place at the front door, nothing works. Every year I try to implement this rule and to no avail. Try researching what the bottom of shoes actually track into your home (you will never wear shoes into your house again). This is the sole reason why cleaning your carpets is non-negotiable. Experts recommend deep cleaning your carpet at least once every 12 months. In some situations, you should deep clean your carpet on a more regular basis (small children, pets, smokers). According to the American Lung Association, children are more likely to be exposed to pollution from the carpet, both because they spend so much time playing on it and because they’re likely to place their hands in their mouths. Rug manufacturer Shaw Industries recommends carpets be cleaned using hot water extraction. This preferred method of cleaning can produce heat from 190 to 245 degrees, killing germs and bacteria that may be living in your carpet (use a professional service or rent a carpet cleaner). These carpet cleaners have vacuums so powerful they can suck up sediments that may be lodged in your carpet that you don’t even know about.

True confession time, people. During this process there is always that one thing that surprises you (although with two teenagers you’d think not much surprises me). One of the most dreaded parts of any cleaning regimen is the gross you don’t even know that you have. Every year I find this place somewhere new. I was happily and innocently disassembling my fridge when I stumbled upon some unidentifiable gunk under one of the drawers. I was horrified to find my grosser than gross in my refrigerator (see photo). Nonetheless, I persevered. A small amount of gagging combined with initial Dawn and hot soapy water, followed by some heavy-duty scrubbing and it was back to normal. Phew!

No matter what your method is, or how long it takes you, make a priority to keep your house safe and healthy. Hopefully you find some unexpected valuables (couch change or dryer money) and upon completion can sit back and enjoy the fruits of your labor. If feasible, enlist the help of family members whenever possible, or do what I do – call my Mom.

(Crystal Reynolds is an owner of 43 Degrees North Athletic Club.)

Author: Crystal Reynolds / For the Insider

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