Monday, February 14, 2011

The Garden As Exercise

Soon, very soon...
February Thoughts~ The Garden As Exercise

Sunday was a gorgeous day that reminded one there are only five more weeks of Winter before Spring makes her official entrance. It was perfect for being outside in the sunshine clearing twigs and snow debris from the beds and greeting the early arrivals in the garden. Undaunted baby-green tips were peeking up everywhere and one can feel the season is coming!

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 gradually and it does seem, rather appropriately, chores in the garden seem to increase in intensity as the weather warms. 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. Most of the active men listed gardening as their major form of exercise and it is amazing how many people in their nineties are still gardening. Our own Poet Laureate, Stanley Kunitz, still gardened until his death in 2006 at one hundred!

Everyone from small children to senior citizens may enjoy the garden making it a perfect family activity. It is claimed that the sensory pleasure of scented and colorful flowers reduces stress and will also provide a psychological benefit by giving one a fulfilling sense of accomplishment. Gardening is the best health secret on the planet… it is, however, addictive.


A very nice winter read~