GARDENING: World’s Best-Kept Exercise Secret

Have you ever thought of your garden as nature's fabulous gym? Think now, if you haven't!

GardeningThe garden in front of my house serves as my "in-house" gym. How? You may ask. It is true and I can vouch for it. I enjoy gardening and chores such as hauling topsoil, mowing and raking, and even weeding. I never knew till recently though, that, 45 minutes of gardening burns as many calories as 30 minutes of aerobics.

It was a chance meeting with a general practitioner friend that let me into this best- kept secret.

Gardening is a wonderful hobby with the bonus of having fresh flowers in your drawing room, and fresh fruits and vegetables on your salad trays. In addition, it is a moderate, and sometimes strenuous, exercise that incorporates many important elements of accepted exercise regimes, such as stretching and stance, repetition and movement, and even resistance principles similar to weight training.

An hour of gardening could have you expending about 300 calories. According to experts, regular gardening of around 30 minutes can help lower blood sugar levels, control cholesterol and prevent high blood pressure and heart disease. It can also prevent the onset of osteoporosis. Again, if you're looking to lose a few inches around your waistline, or simply maintain your weight, gardening is a wise choice.

It's fun, relaxing, and enriching and happens to be healthy when done regularly.

However, you need to delve into what it takes to embark upon this activity as an exercise.

For a fresher, it is advisable to start with just 10 minutes activity and gradually increase it to 30 minutes per day for 4-5 days a week.

Here are a few simple guidelines that you can follow if you want to pursue gardening - a fun exercise that will ensure you enjoy and achieve maximum health benefits:

Warm-up

Begin with warm-up exercises before you start active gardening. You could warm-up with some stretching and pull-ups or a brisk walk for 10 minutes. It would be wise to start your gardening activity with working the upper body by raking leaves, turning compost, or pulling weeds with hands. Remember to take a little time between the jobs. Even better would be to alternate heavy with light jobs. Take care: because, repetitive work could lead to injuries, e.g., tennis elbow.

Posture

The importance of right posture cannot be over-emphasised. Backache is one of the most common complaints of avid gardeners. It can be easily avoided if one uses the right posture. Don't bend from the back as you rake, or hoe. Bend from the knees and use your legs, shoulders and arms in a rocking motion. Also, alternate your stance - from right-handed to left-handed. Alternating stance balances the muscles used. This one change could render you free from backaches from gardening activity. While digging, keep one foot in front pointing towards your right [direction], and turn your body instead of twisting your back. These techniques require time and practice, but after a few sessions they will become a natural part of your gardening routine.

Lifting and Handling Techniques

These techniques are critical for your wellbeing. While lifting a wheel barrow, or a heavy pot, keep the knees flexed together, hold the object close to your body and lift. Exhale as you lift a heavy load and inhale when you place it down.

Sunburn and dehydration

Thanks to our tropical climate, hobby gardeners are required to keep a close watch on their skin. Sunburn is quite common. Wearing a sunscreen is a must if you are outside for more than 20 minutes.

Apply sunscreen at least 15 minutes before you go out and re-apply after two hours. Avoid outdoor activity between 10 am and 4 pm. Dehydration is another thing which one has to guard against. It can occur due to heat and exercise; progressive dehydration can sometimes be hazardous. Drink plenty of water, or sports drinks, before, during, and after gardening, to ensure fluid replacement.

Ergonomic tools

Choose the right tools for you and your garden. Remember, you have to use them, so invest in the right ergonomic tools readily available in the market. They have to be lightweight, but strong.

Tools with extended handles, handles with padding, handles that are soft, comfortable and easy-to-grip, make gardening a pleasure. The benches you use for potting plants should be at a comfortable height.

Consider using a tool box, or a special apron containing pockets for keeping essential tools at hand. In case you have a big garden, which is a rarity in cities like Mumbai, consider having a lawn mower and wheel barrow to carry raked out weeds.

Gardening gear

This is something that requires special care and attention.

  • Wear a pair of sunglasses to protect your eyes from harmful UV rays
  • Wear comfortable loose cotton clothes
  • You can choose to wear a sensible wide-brimmed hat to protect and shade your neck and face
  • Since most gardeners suffer from bruises, blisters and cuts in their palms, it would be advisable to wear a pair of gardening gloves
  • Wear a pair of comfortable shoes to protect your feet from stone, thorn and insects.

The joy, satisfaction, and the sense of achievement you derive from plucking flowers from your own garden is something unique. It's a great way to exercise and keep fit too.

Happy gardening!

Gardening is being recognised as a healthy lifestyle habit that can provide significant benefits to people of all ages. Studies show that 30 minutes a day of moderate activity, such as gardening, may decrease the risk of numerous chronic ailments including heart disease, stroke, and Type 2 diabetes. In addition, proponents point to the psychological boost conferred by accomplishing a task and literally taking time to smell the roses. Depending on the activity, gardening can be as tough a work-out as lifting weights, or riding a bike.

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2 COMMENTS

  1. What a great article! I could not agree more. As someone who has been writing and lecturing nationwide since 1992 on the benefits of applying the aerobic model to gardening motions, it’s great to see finally see more articles proposing the health benefits of gardening.

    It’s not a secret but a fitness style that takes time, patience, persistence and personal responsibility. Success is measured in seasons, years and decades, not a marathon sprint.

    Getting Fit Through Gardening is a great suggestion for Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move Obesity Campaign. Fighting childhood obesity is a worthy project and gardening is something anyone can do regardless of size or athletic ability. This is something the older generation can teach the younger generation.

    By applying techniques from aerobics, weight-training and the martial-arts to gardening motions, you create something old yet entirely new — a lifelong, comprehensive fitness program based around gardening.

    By lowering your center of gravity and harnessing the energy from your legs and torso versus the muscles of your lower back and arms, gardening now becomes more aerobic and more enjoyable. Also, this technique will reduce strain on your back, muscle soreness and even calluses on your hands.

    Using the Aerobic Model while gardening and the proper tools can make all the difference between a sore back, aching joints and hating gardening to feeling as if you just stepped off of an elliptical machine at the gym, energetic and refreshed.

    My advice is and has always been: gardening can be good for you but only if done correctly — and most don’t do it correctly (how they move their body) and use tools that were not ergonomically designed.

    You can see a short, one-minute demonstration of my rocking and scooting gardening stance and technique on my website: http://www.getfitthroughgardening.com or my book of the same name: Get Fit Through Gardening. – Jeffrey Restuccio

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