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Get Fit in the Garden

Take advantage of the gym growing outside your front door!
By
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic-Feature

Bruce Van Horn says most of us don't do enough for ourselves. To practice what he preaches, the New York yoga instructor spends a good part of every day in his garden. The benefits? "It not only saves me money, but it gets me moving," says Van Horn.

Weeding, planting, pruning, watering the lawn -- there's always something to do in the garden that will help bring physical activity into your day, says Van Horn.

Gardening brings you both mental and physical fitness, says Charlie Nardozzi, horticulturist at the National Gardening Association in South Burlington, Vt. From the mental standpoint, says Nardozzi, gardening provides a way of unwinding. "When you're engrossed in what's going on in your garden, you're not so wrapped up in what happened during the rest of the day. Gardening offers you a way of creating a sanctuary, a place of ease."

From a physical standpoint, gardening helps you build strength, dexterity, and flexibility. "Not to mention the advantages you get from being outside in the sunshine," he says.

Focusing on the major muscle groups maximizes the exercise benefits from gardening, says Jeff Restuccio, author of Fitness the Dynamic Gardening Way. Bend your knees while raking, for example, or place a crate that requires you to step up and down as you move from one flowerbed to the next.

Restuccio, who is also a martial arts expert, recommends exaggerating your movements so that you achieve the maximum range of motion and changing your stances in order to use different muscles. When raking, for example, put your left foot forward, and use your left hand lower on the handle. Then switch, putting your right foot forward, changing your hand positions as well.

Feel the Burn (of Calories)

Gardening is also a good way to whittle down your waistline, says Nardozzi. Thirty minutes of gardening exercise (for a 180-pound person) can burn off the following number of calories (the more you weigh, the more calories you'll burn; the less you weigh, the fewer calories you'll burn):

Watering lawn or garden, 61 calories
Mowing lawn (riding), 101
Trimming shrubs (power), 142
Raking, 162
Bagging leaves, 162
Planting seedlings, 162
Mowing (push with motor), 182
Planting trees, 182
Trimming shrubs (manual), 182
Weeding, 182
Clearing land, 202
Digging, spading, tilling, 202
Laying sod, 202
General gardening, 202
Mowing lawn (push mower), 243

Women who want to protect themselves from osteoporosis would also be well advised to get into the garden. According to a study conducted by the National Women's Health Resource Center, yard work is an activity that benefits bone density because it involves weight-bearing motions, such as pushing a mower, digging holes, pulling weeds, and carrying soil or other gardening items.

Gardening Health Tips

The National Gardening Association offers these tips for getting the most health benefits from gardening:

  • Plan a daily gardening activity. There's always something you can do related to gardening, even if it's just walking to your local garden center and carrying home a bag of seeds.
  • Vary your activities. Break up strenuous gardening chores with more moderate activities. Switch from digging holes, for example, to some less difficult weeding.
  • Count the minutes. Make sure the total amount of gardening exercise time adds up to 30 minutes. Each activity should last at least 8 minutes. If you've been a couch potato all winter, don't jump right in. Build up the 30 minutes gradually.

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