It's true: Your humble garden and lawn can allow you to squeeze exercise into your busy schedule and help you shed pounds and tone muscles.
"Before we started sitting at desks all day to do our work, we were always outside working, growing our food, just living our lives and staying fit from all the physical activity we'd have in the course of a day," says Charlie Nardozzi, a senior horticulturalist for the National Gardening Association. "Gardening brings us back to an enjoyable type of work that's also exercise."
Plus, when you're tilling earth, you're not pounding your knees running on pavement, grinding a bike up a big hill, or enclosing yourself inside a gym. "If you like the activity, you're more likely to keep engaged and continue doing it," Nardozzi says.
And because there are almost as many gardening activities as there are varieties of marigolds, you can easily match your exercise needs to your green thumb, Nardozzi says. For example, pushing a lawn mower can be a good cardiovascular workout; you can burn about 375 calories an hour moving at a good pace.
To plant the seeds of a workout when you garden, follow Nardozzi's five tips:
1. Warm Up
Before you dig in, limber up your muscles by first walking around your yard for 10 to 15 minutes. Use the walking time to think about what you'll need to do while gardening, he suggests. After the walking warm-up, take a couple of minutes to stretch. Reach up with both arms, bend over, and stretch your legs. You'll be less likely to pull muscles and have aches and pains the next day with such a warm-up.
2. Vary Tasks
Some gardening chores may involve repetitive motion, such as pulling weeds. To avoid straining your muscles and ligaments, vary your gardening activities from session to session. For example, if you're weeding on Tuesday, don't weed again the next time you're gardening. Instead, focus on watering or other work in which you use your leg muscles.
3. Lift Safely
Bend from your knees, not with your back, while lifting those bags of mulch or moving rocks. And when shoveling, don't dig up too much in one scoop. It also helps avoid back injuries to keep the loads closer to your body.
4. Ease Into the Season
With spring blossoms comes an enthusiasm to dive back into the dirt and quickly revitalize your greenery. But gardening is like a sport: You don't run a marathon immediately after a winter exercise lull. You should pace your gardening as well. Work an hour, then take a water break. If you're beginning to feel sore, come back another day. In the first month, about two hours at a time may be the max for working in your garden.
5. Target Your Workouts
For arm strength, think pruning and using hand saws and clippers. To strengthen your back, schedule weeding. Build leg strength by lifting stones or bags of soil or fertilizer, and planting trees and shrubs. Make it a goal to garden three to four times a week, ideally a mix of cardio and strength, giving muscles a break from gardening session to session.