By Ellen Sturm
For your best workout, head to the full-service gym located just outside your door.
Tired of the treadmill? Bored with Sweating to the Oldies ? Forget them without missing out on your workout by seeing gardening for what it is: good exercise. "Gardening activities are a great way for a person to meet the recommended moderate-intensity physical activity of at least 30 minutes a day five days per week," says Dr. Barbara E. Ainsworth at the University of South Carolina School of Public Health.
According to her research, a 180-pound man will burn 326 calories and a 132-pound woman will burn 240 calories gardening for an hour. While digging for 30 minutes, a 140-pound person burns 159 calories. Weeding and planting seeds each burn 143 calories.
According to a study at the University of North Carolina, gardeners spent 17.2 percent less per year on health-care services than nongardeners. Gardening increases bone density and can help prevent osteoporosis in women over 50. Dr. Lori Turner, associate professor at the University of Arkansas-Fayetteville, discovered that women who gardened weekly have stronger bones than those who jog, swim, walk, or do aerobics — thanks to the weight-bearing motions of digging, pulling weeds, and pushing a mower. Plus, "gardening was the No. 1 activity that women enjoyed," she says.
Slow and Steady
"For the sake of your body, start slowly," says Barbara Pearlman, New York fitness movement consultant and author of Gardener's Fitness: Weeding out the Aches and Pains (National Book Network, 1999). She suggests you gradually build up the time you spend gardening each day if you are a novice or just returning to the garden after winter.
Pearlman also says to stretch before and after gardening to reduce the chance of injury and increase flexibility. She advises taking breaks, too. "Stop and stretch any muscles that are being overworked," she says. After weeding for 15 minutes, for example, stand up, take off your gloves, and shake out your hands, fingers, legs, and back to release any tensions.
Watch Your Moves
"Unlike other sports where you learn to move your body, no one teaches you to move correctly in the garden," says Pearlman. Among her suggestions: To support your back while bending over, pull in your abdominal muscles. Change hands while carrying heavy loads to preserve your alignment. Avoid the impulse to hold your breath while exerting effort, and breath normally. Protect knees by placing feet flat on the ground (not on the balls) while squatting, and don't lock knees when bending. "Make sure all your movements are fluid, smooth, and slow," says Pearlman.
The Right Equipment
While you may want to use a manual mower and rake to get the best workout, consider using tools designed to put less strain on your body. Raised beds and portable stools mean less bending and stooping. If you must kneel, use foam pads to cushion knees. Long-handled tools with good grip surfaces will also help. Try products ergonomically designed to make gardening easier, such as those produced by Fiskars, Ames, and Achievable Concepts.
If you do strain yourself, the American Chiropractic Association suggests applying a cold pack during the first 48 hours or a heat pack after 48 hours. Sunbeam's Health at Home hot/cold flexible back wrap inflates so it stays in place. Also try rubs and bath soaks; Porter's Gardener's Quick Relief Muscle Rub combines castor bean and soybean oils with Arnica montana and eucalyptus leaf oil. Kathy's Family "Call It a Day" lavender and clary sage soak relieves aches and reduces inflammation.
At the end of the day, don't forget the real reason you garden, whatever that may be. Exercise is simply a wonderful side benefit of the activity you already love.
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