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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.

Jeff Restuccio has his own "aerobic gardening" program:

  • Warm up your muscles for 5-10 minutes before you garden.

  • Stretch (especially the legs, hips, shoulders, and neck) for 5-10 minutes. Stretching will help relieve back strain and muscle soreness and avoid injury.

  • Garden using a variety of motions at a steady pace. Plan out your gardening exercise session to include a variety of movements such as raking, mowing, weeding, pruning, and digging, and alternate between them often, every 15 minutes, for example. Here are six different motions or techniques to rake, hoe, and weed:

    • Bend one leg, knee down to the ground, keeping the other foot flat. Use a hand tool.
    • Bend both legs and kneel on a soft pad. Use a hand tool.
    • Squat with both feet flat on the ground. (Don't do this if you have bad knees.)
    • Lunge and weed (Restuccio's personal favorite). Using a hand weeder, lunge with one leg bent at the knee in front of you and one leg bent straight back.
    • Sit and weed. If your knees, feet, or legs won't permit much bending, then sit and garden. Exercise your arms and waist. Use long-handled tools.
    • Stand with knees bent and your back straight and rake in a broad, sweeping motion using your legs. While raking or hoeing, use long-handled tools so you won't have to bend over to use them.

  • Stretch again after you have thoroughly warmed up your muscles with 15-20 minutes of steady raking, hoeing, weeding, planting, or mowing.

  • Cool down after your gardening exercise session by walking or picking flowers or vegetables.

As beneficial as gardening is, you still need to take some precautions. For starters, "always, always, always bend from your knees and not your back," says Restuccio.

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