If waxing cars ("Wax on, wax off") can be great training and exercise for learning martial arts, then it makes sense that gardening out in your yard can be a great exercise for overall personal fitness. Think of it. Rake for a while; dig for a while. Heavy work, then light work. Standing, then bending, then crouching or kneeling, then doing it all again, over and over and over – over the course of an hour or so, day after day.
It can be like getting a great workout at the gym, except now you're outdoors (presumably in nice weather) and working for a purpose. Maybe it's to beautify your landscape by trimming bushes and growing flowers, or planting and cultivating an assortment of vegetables to eventually be enjoyed by family and friends.
When does a workout not feel like a workout – at least not until the next morning, when you try to get out of bed and you're sore all over? Consider gardening just another reason to whistle while you work. In touting gardening as a worthy exercise activity, womenshealthmag.com cites research that has measured a variety of gardening tasks rated as moderate- to high-intensity in terms of physical activity. Digging was at the top of the list, followed by raking, weeding, mulching, hoeing, sowing, harvesting, watering and mixing growing medium.
Even the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) get into the gardening realm, proclaiming that it constitutes "moderate cardiovascular exercise," stated at mindbodygreen.com.
"I like gardening because it's purposeful," says Jeff Restuccio, a first-degree black belt and author of Fitness the Dynamic Gardening Way, quoted at webmd.com. "Exercise 30 to 60 minutes, then quit, whether everything is planted or not."
Restuccio suggests that gardeners looking to get the best fitness benefit should focus on deep breathing and increase your range of motion, such as exaggerating the digging or raking motions. "You can use up to 500 calories an hour that way," he says.
"You should feel lucky to be outside in the garden," adds Sharon Lovejoy, author of County Living Gardener: A Blessing of Toads.
While gardening can provide fitness benefits, it's also a great way to soothe emotions while providing a calming effect by working in what the American Horticulture Therapy Association (AHTA) refers to as "the natural world." The AHTA, per webmd.com, also says that elderly people, to include those with cognitive issues, can flourish in a community gardening environment.
Most gardening activities can seem sedentary, but you can amp it up some to make it into a good workout routine without going too far and rushing through it. Here are some tips to make gardening an especially good workout:
- Sweep first. This is a good way to get started and loosen up. Sweep the front walk, the garden walkway or the flagstone if you have them. A good time to do this is right after you have mowed the yard – with a push mower, not a riding mower.
- Trim or prune the bushes and trees. Just be careful when handling cutting tools, especially powered devices. Protective goggles are in order here. Don't work with haste; take your time (you'll still work up a sweat).
- Dig. "Whether you're digging a new row for planting crops or double-digging to turn over soil, it's a great way to stay in shape," says fitday.com.
- Hoe. It's harder and more exhausting than it looks, especially when dealing with rocky ground. Hoes are effective not only for moving stuff around and evening out surfaces, but it is very useful for digging and squaring off holes (excuse the oxymoron, but you know what we mean). Big-time workout.
- Squat while you weed. Great workout for the legs. Hold that squatting position until your thighs burn, then stand up and stretch.
A quick word of caution while gardening or landscaping: be careful about using pesticides. Many contain toxins that you don't want to be breathing or rubbing up against. That's why when gardening, it's good to wear long rubber gloves, a waterproof hat (also helps protect you from the sun), goggles, and long shirts as well long pants that go over boots. Yes, all that garb can get hot on an already warm day, but pace yourself, and drink plenty of water.
As for the pesticides, which are designed to be toxic to the pests, plant disease or other unwanted garden invaders, be sure you know how to use them and what's in them before you buy them, bring them home and start going at it full-bore with your plants and landscaping. There are alternatives to managing your yard's pests without resorting to toxin-laden pesticides. We'll discuss that more in a future blog on this website.
Meanwhile, it's time to get ready to tend your garden and to take care of your health and fitness in the process.