Reap the Benefits of Gardening

Bend, twist, reach, and pull.

While this may sound like an intensive aerobics class, these are actually movements you do while working in the garden. Researchers estimate that gardening burns an average of 300 calories per hour, while heavy yard work can burn more than 600 calories per hour! Engaging in regular physical activity like gardening is also an excellent way to lower your risk of some cancers.

Here’s the Dirt
Gardening is an ideal form of exercise because it combines three important types of physical activity: strength, endurance and flexibility.

Spending time in a garden is also believed by many to have physical and emotional healing effects. According to the American Horticultural Therapy Association, gardening can benefit people who are recovering from physical illness by retraining their muscles and improving coordination, balance, and strength. In addition, simply spending time in nature reduces stress, lowers blood pressure, and relieves muscle tension.

But the cancer-protective benefits of gardening don’t end there. Studies show that gardeners eat a wider variety of vegetables (rich in disease-fighting antioxidants and phytochemicals), and have a higher overall intake of vegetables than non-gardeners.

The Old-Fashioned Way Is Better
To reap the maximum health benefit from your gardening, labor intensively. Turn off your leaf blower and pick up a rake. Use manual clippers, trimmers and lawnmowers if possible.

Try to stick to a regular "garden exercise" routine. Rather than saving up your outdoor work for one marathon weekend session, schedule at least 30-60 minutes of gardening two or three times per week. If you’re away from home during the day, early mornings and evenings are ideal
gardening times.

Work at a steady, constant speed, but be sure to change positions every 10 minutes or so to avoid overusing a particular muscle group. If you start by bending down to pull weeds, stand to prune the hedges next. Also alternate which side of the body you use. Pull with your right hand, then with your left.

Find a Row to Hoe
Even if you don’t own an acre, a small yard can provide ample opportunity to dig, plant, and weed. You can also look for a local garden on the American Community Garden Association’s website. Although your workout will be more limited if you garden on a balcony or patio, you can harvest a good crop of nutritious vegetables in a space as small as 16 square feet.

After your physician gives you the "green thumbs up," keep these tips in mind:
  • To prevent muscle soreness, back pain, and repetitive strain injuries, warm up before starting and cool down after you are finished by walking and stretching.
  • Use steady, smooth motions to avoid injury.
  • Protect yourself from the sun by wearing sunscreen, long-sleeved shirts and pants, and a wide-brimmed hat.
  • Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated, especially if the temperature and humidity are high.
  • When picking up tools or lifting bags of soil, bend your knees and keep your back straight.
Happy Gardening!