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April 7, 2009 at 3:50 PMComments: 0 Faves: 0

Actual Exercise: Gardening

By Katie from SLN More Blogs by This Author

If you're someone who lives in an area battered by cold, snow, and general winter gloom a good portion of the year, no doubt you're beginning to feel the excitement and anticipation of spring. And more than anything you want to get outside and enjoy your yard. After clearing away last season's dead vegetation, you can finally get going on that flower or vegetable garden. Or maybe you have shrubs and a few fruit trees. Whatever cultivating you do this spring, remember to take advantage of the health benefits outdoor work can provide. It's been said that moderate gardening activity can burn 300 to 400 calories an hour while working the muscular and cardiovascular systems!

Before You Begin

Of course, since gardening is physical work, it must be approached in the safest way possible. Here are a few things to do before you begin:

  • Wear comfortable clothing that allows you to move easily and protect yourself from skin irritation and injury. Gloves can also help with this.
  • Put on shoes that provide comfort and support, such as sneakers meant for athletic activity.
  • Protect your skin from prolonged sun exposure with sun screen, clothing, and hats.
  • Do a gentle warm up that will loosen and stretch your body for the varied movements gardening requires. Try a short walk, head rolls, and lunges.

Gardening for Fitness

When you're ready to begin, make sure that the tools you're going to use allow natural positions and movements. Using handles that are the correct length and in shapes that fit with your arms and hands can minimize stress on your entire body. Also, it's a good idea to have a cushion or small stool to sit or kneel on if need be. While you're gardening, keep these tips to in mind to avoid aches and pains later:

  • Start with light tasks, like weeding. This will continue to get your body into the rhythm of physical activity.
  • Gradually work up to heavier jobs like turning the compost and digging.
  • Alternate between activities to keep your movement varied and less stressful. Try weeding for a while, then clipping, then raking, and then weeding again.
  • Take a rest if you begin to feel any pain or fatigue.
  • Always lift with your knees, never with your back. Many back injuries happen because of improper lifting.
  • Sit, squat, or kneel if working on the ground for long periods of time. Don't bend at the back, but at the legs. This is where the cushion or stool comes in handy.

When you're about finished, cool down from strenuous work by doing lighter tasks to bring your body closer to a resting state. After that, talk a walk around to look at what you've accomplished to continue bringing your heart rate down. It's also a chance to check out all of your handy work! Outdoor work can be rough on your hands, so be sure to thoroughly wash and moisturize them when you're finished for the day. In addition to the exercise, gardening provides benefits for your mental health.

Working with the earth can be very calming, and that is coupled with a sense of practical purpose, especially if you're growing your own food (Side note - further improve your health by keeping all chemicals out of your gardening soil, and regularly adding organic compost). The best thing about gardening as a form of exercise is that anybody can do it. Age and ability are easily matched with the multitude of activity available with yard work. So no matter who you are, get out there and enjoy the season, and the many benefits of flower and vegetable gardening!

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