I was recently handed a copy of an article written by Rhonda Hayes entitled “A Guide for Aging Gardener” published in the Home and Garden Section of the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
I was a bit taken back by the “aging gardener” reference as I don’t often consider myself old.
I read the article with interest and started thinking about the health benefits I was getting from being out in the garden, specifically the physical health benefits.
I try to be physically active every day. The reality is that some days I am pressed for time and the garden calls louder than the desire for a walk or bike ride.
I feel guilty about skipping the formal exercise. After doing research for this column, I feel much better knowing that time in the garden can be equally as good (if not better) than other forms of physical exercise.
Professional healthrelated organizations recommend adults get 150 minutes (2.5 hours) of moderate intensity exercise a week. Gardening is considered a moderate to vigorous intensity exercise.
Think about how many times you lift, squat, push, pull, and step through an afternoon of weeding. Raking, shoveling, and using a wheelbarrow are excellent whole-body activities.
Watering (especially with watering can) and mulching are good strength training activities and work large muscle groups.
Gardening (at least the way I do it) is an aerobic activity.
Calories are burned, muscles and bones are strengthened, and balance, flexibility and endurance are tested and developed when you’re out spending some time in the garden.
Using hand tools and the fine motor activities associated with gardening (pinching off plant limbs, picking ripe produce) can help to improve dexterity.
Research studies suggest that time in the sunlight can lower blood pressure and increase levels of vitamin D, which is necessary for good bone health.
Vitamin D has also been shown to reduce inflammation, help control infections, and may even impact the growth of some types of cancer cells.
Be sure when you’re gardening on a sunny day (or even a cloudy day) to use sunscreen, wear a hat, and protect yourself from other gardening hazards such as bug bites, scrapes, thorns, and falls.
Here are some other ways to make gardening more enjoyable and to keep yourself safe from hurting yourself. • Take frequent breaks and drink plenty of water (especially on a hot day). • When you need to lift, use proper lifting mechanics by lifting with your legs and not with your back.
• Use a wheelbarrow rather than carrying heavy
items across the yard.
• Use the right tool for
the job. There are ergonomically correct tools
available and adaptable
tools designed for people
with arthritis. Using longhandled tools can prevent
stooping and back issues.
• Stools or chairs are
readily available and can
be used when you’re
weeding. If you need to
kneel, get a kneeler with
handles (to push yourself
up with) and a foam pad
for your knees.
• If you get tired bending
or have difficulty getting
down to the ground (and
back up again) consider
changing to raised beds
or container gardens
which can be as high as
your waist. There are
many sizes, shapes, and
colors readily available.
Gardening is a great personal training program.
It requires a wide variety of movements and motions. It gets you out into the great outdoors, and is a cost effective (okay, cheap) personal trainer.
That is unless you are compelled to add more plants every time you hit the garden. Then maybe it isn’t really all that cheap.
Gardening as Exercise (Maryland Primary Care Physicians): www.mpcp.com/articles/healthylifestyle/ gardening-asexercise
Gardening Exercise and Body Mechanics: www.fyi.extension.wisc.edu/ sewmg/files/2016/07/ LLGExercisesMechanicsHandout Feb-2017.pdf
Gardening Stretches: www.youtube.com/ watch?v=0GSs_ XBi_ WU
Health Benefits of Gardening (University of Minnesota Extension): www.extension.umn.edu/news/ health-benefits-gardening
Yoga for Gardeners (Yoga with Adrienne): www.yogawithadriene.com/yoga-for-gardeners.
Sally Koski is a University of Minnesota Extension Volunteer/St. Louis County master gardener who lives and gardens in Ely. Lawn and garden questions can be directed to Sally at firstname.lastname@example.org