Gardening as Exercise
1. Q. Should gardening and yard work really be considered a good form of exercise?
A. Absolutely. Doing something is always better than doing nothing. A seven-year study of 12,000 middle-aged men at high risk for coronary heart disease showed that those who kept up moderate, leisure time physical activity for an average of about 50 minutes every day were healthier than those who did little or nothing. And one of the top choices of these active men was gardening. The key to good health, according to another study, is expending 2,000 calories a week in exercise, beyond the routines of daily life. Your cardiovascular system will benefit most from running, brisk walking, cycling, and other activities that raise your heart rate sufficiently for at least 20 minutes. But you can still get many benefits from an aerobic exercise such as gardening if you pursue it regularly.
Even the less strenuous forms of garden upkeep - weeding, trimming, raking - can burn off about 300 calories an hour. Spading, lifting, tilling, and raking can improve muscle tone and strength. You can make an effort to garden energetically, rather than just puttering. Try to work at a constant pace. Use manual clippers and trimmers instead of power equipment. As with any kind of exercise, it's a good idea to warm up and stretch before you start.
For your comfort, safety, and the good of your back and knees, keep these tips in mind:
It's not a good idea to abandon all other exercise in favor or working in the yard. Gardening can pay some dividends, however, that running doesn't - flowers and fresh vegetables. Who's to measure the satisfactions and benefits of those?
- If you spend time on your knees, use a cushion. Keep your back straight and don't sit on your heels. Stand up and stretch your legs every 10 minutes or so.
- Use a lightweight, long-handled shovel or spade, and don't overload it. Bend at the knee and step forward as you raise and dump each shovel full of soil.
- Bend at the knees and hips when picking up tools.
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