No memberships. No contracts.

Getting exercise with spring gardening

Spring is in the air and the gardening season is approaching fast, in fact, many of us can not wait.

Gardening is an activity that is participated in by millions of people all across the country. It is a wonderful hobby that lets people express their creativity, their knowledge, and their personality. Gardening is an activity that brings instant gratification that we Americans live for. But what many people forget is that gardening can also be a great form of exercise.

Research shows that, in areas that have a cold winter, as spring approaches and the weather gets warmer, people increase the amount of calories they burn. This is directly due to an increase in outdoor activity. Certainly, people go out and walk, run, ride bikes, much more in the warmer months than in the colder months, but it’s not just formal exercise that accounts for the increase in caloric expenditure.

Many of these “extra” calories that we burn come from “ADL’s” or Activities of Daily Living. ADL’s are the things we do in our lives that are not formal exercises. They can be as simple as getting dressed and eating or involved activities like painting, mowing the grass, or….gardening. Gardening and other yard work is a great way to use your ADL’s to burn calories, help you lose weight, and get fit.

Now, please don’t get overly excited and think that if you plant one flat of pansies in April it will be enough exercise to sustain you through the entire summer. One bout of working in the garden or yard is not going to do it. But regular work in your garden or yard can become a significant addition to your exercise program. It can be an addition to both your aerobic exercise routine, your strength training routine, and your stretching routine.

For instance, doing “spring cleaning” in your yard by raking up all the winter yuk and putting it in bags to be hauled away can be a vigorous aerobic workout. How? Well, for an exercise to be considered aerobic it must be 1) Rhythmical, 2) Use large muscle masses, such as your back or legs, 3) Elevate your heart rate to at least 50% of your maximum heart rate, and 4) Be sustained for at least 20 minutes. Raking your yard and flower beds can meet all these criteria, not to mention hauling all your bags of yard waste down to the end of your driveway.

Trimming and pruning as well as mulching and planting can be a great strength training workout. Using hedge clippers to trim large bushes or beds of ivy is a great way to work your upper body muscles. Hauling wheel barrels or bags full of mulch to various parts of your yard works legs, back, and chest. Digging new beds or edging existing beds is also a great challenge to your upper body and back muscles. And because of all the bending and twisting that you do while you are working your abs get a great workout trying to help you keep your balance.

Vigorous gardening can get you in some pretty precarious and “twisted” situations. Many of which are a challenge to your flexibility. Your range of motion of many muscles will be challenged during an afternoon in the garden leaving you feeling as if you have had a day of yoga-like stretching.

These are just a few general examples to help you see how much exercise gardening can be. However, not everyone gets the same benefits. It depends on how hard you want to work. It’s like bike riding. Many people think that just because they get on a bike and stay on it for an hour or so that they had a good workout. Biking is only good exercise if you pedal continuously and at a rate of at least 50 rpms, pedaling a few easy strokes and then coasting down every hill you can find is not the same thing. My point is, to be honest with yourself. You can use gardening as a substitute for a workout in the gym or a bout of walking or running, but only if you honestly can say that the effort you put in the yard is the same or greater. You’ll know when you have worked hard enough in the yard to call it a “workout”.

That being said, it is also important that I mention that gardening and yard work can also be a great source of pain and injury. Gardeners are especially prone to low back pain, due to the stooped position they are often in. Gardening is great exercise, but you have to be in shape to do it. If you do not regularly exercise, you can not go out on the first nice spring day and rake and haul for 4 hours. You will be in bed for a week afterward! If you are out of shape, especially in gardening shape, you must START SLOW! Also, if you are currently in an exercise program, start to gear it a little more towards getting you ready to attack your yard. Increase leg work, ab work, low back exercises, shoulder work, and stretching.

Enjoy this gardening season and get the bonus of including it as part of your exercise routine……………happy gardening!