Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Garden As Exercise

As a hobby, gardening ranks among the most popular activities with an astonishing 94%of Americans claiming it. The fact it burns calories and works muscles makes it a perfect low impact workout. As more and more Americans rush to the gym seeking health through exercise, the gardener simply needs to step outside the back door. Weeding or cultivating can burn 200 calories an hour, while hauling rocks can burn as many as 600. Turning compost is essentially the equivalent of lifting weights. Pushing the mower is the outdoor treadmill and raking is the gardener's rowing machine. Our exercise machines are trowels, rakes, shovels, clippers, and wheelbarrows; our running track is the garden. And when compared to the sweaty filth accumulating in a modern gym, dirt seems miraculously clean.

Not only will gardening build strength, but it uses literally all of the major muscle groups. It brings cardiovascular benefits and several studies have suggested that gardening could reduce insulin resistance, a condition that may lead to metabolic syndrome or diabetes, both of which increase the risk of heart disease. Only 30 minutes a day in the garden will lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels and will prevent or slow osteoporosis.

As with all exercise, it is important to begin slowly and it does seem, rather appropriately, chores in the garden seem to increase in intensity as the season progresses. In a study of heart attack risk assessment using 21,000 male Harvard alumni, it was reported that sedentary individuals had a 100 times greater chance of suffering a heart attack during strenuous activity than individuals who exercise moderately several times a week. The active men, whose chance of a heart attack increased only 2.4 times during strenuous activity, listed gardening as their major form of exercise.

Everyone from small children to senior citizens may enjoy puttering in the garden so it is a perfect family activity. It is claimed that the sensory pleasure of scented and colorful flowers reduces stress. The psychological benefits are valuable as well. Not only does one have the joy of producing fresh and healthful produce for the table, but the sense of accomplishment is quite fulfilling in itself. At the end of the day sit quietly and listen to the relaxing sound of a trickle of water in a pond, the magic of wind chimes in an evening breeze, and relax with the serene feeling of a deed well accomplished. The garden is the best kept health secret on the planet.