The Garden Patch: Gardening to good health

052514-garden-excericiseGreetings! Good to “see” you again this week! Hope everything is OK with you and yours! Feelin’ OK? This week and next I want to visit with you about gardening and your health.

First, let’s give credit where credit is due … from publications such as “Gardening’s Surprising Health Benefits” Next Avenue, Shelly Sparks, June 15, 2012, plus “Besides offering moderate physical activity, gardening gives older adults benefits like hand strength and self esteem, say K-State researchers,” Errin-Barcomb, Kansas State University, February 3, 2009.

So, let’s get started: Gardening to good health …

  • Gardening provides all three types of exercise: endurance, flexibility and strength.
  • Gardening provides physical benefits, promotes weight loss and improves mental health, stress relief, and brain food.

Pulling, pushing, lifting and bending and trying to keep your body in sync at the same time. Inhale and exhale while you make repetitive motions. Ten to the right and ten to the left, over and over until you are breathing more rapidly than normal, and perhaps even breaking a sweat. Nice workout in the gym, right? Not this time. This time you are in your garden tending to some gardening chore.

Gardening is exercise, no doubt about it. Ask anyone who has double-spaded dirt in the fall or spring and they will tell you they sweated through their shirt.

Whether you are a do-it-yourselfer, or a real putter-arounder, if you are gardening, you are moving. And if you are moving, you are not being sedentary which, to an extreme, can lead to a multitude of health problems, including obesity. You may be gardening out of necessity because you eat and/or sell your produce; or you may garden because you like to create on nature’s palate, make things more beautiful than perhaps they were before. Either way, there is a great sense of satisfaction involved in gardening, Including tremendous health benefits!

Gardening tasks are always there, and offer a variety of opportunities for exercise. From day to day, season to season, there is always something to do to in the garden consisting of exercise. Webster defines exercise as, “physical activity that is done in order to become stronger and healthier; a particular movement or series of movements done to become stronger and healthier.” Thus, with all of the normal physical attributes of exercise available to gardeners, the only additional requirement may be the gardener’s point of view!

Physical benefits of gardening

While enjoying yourself in the garden, you are also working all the major muscle groups: legs, buttocks, arms, shoulders, neck, back and abdomen. Gardening tasks using these muscles build strength and burn calories. Lifting bags of mulch, pushing wheelbarrows and shoveling all provide resistance training similar to weight lifting, which leads to healthier bones and joints, but with minimal jarring and stress on the body, unlike aerobics or jogging.

Thirty minutes per day of gardening has been found to lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels. In fact, gardening has been found to help prevent type II diabetes, heart disease and strokes. The best way to vary your activities maybe 10 minutes pruning, then 10 to 15 minutes weeding, then 10 to 15 minutes digging before going back to pruning. This way, different parts of your body are given a much-needed rest in turn. In addition to this, varying the tasks this way will make some of the more tedious ones a little easier to bear.

Start off with a moderate exercise gardening program and then work your way up to heavier tasks and activities. This is especially important if you’re not already an active gardener, or if you’re an older gardener. Don’t overdo it the first time or you may strain a muscle or two. Gardening can also help reduce problems with osteoporosis. Just make sure you check with your doctor first if you’re older and haven’t already been gardening for a while.

Several Kansas State University researchers discovered that among the other health benefits of gardening is keeping the hands strong and nimble. A KSU professor of horticulture said “One of the things we found is that older adults who are gardeners have better hand strength and pinch force, which is a big concern as you age”.

Don’t be misled – there are times when gardeners try to do too much and end up stiff and sore. This is especially true in the spring when the outdoor gardening season is just getting started. Many gardeners are guilty of wanting to get outside and work the soil or build the wall they’ve been thinking about all winter. Gardeners often forego a good warm-up and proper planning of the day’s activities in exchange for getting into the yard sooner.

Stretching

Stretching out before gardening is like thinking before you speak. It’s hard to do. You probably are under some time restriction where you only have a finite amount of time to get any particular job done. I get that. But, developing a general stretching program and especially loosening up before tackling any gardening project will minimize next day aches.

There are a number of approaches to stretching before gardening. You might want to take a couple of laps around the garden at whatever speed you feel like. Another way is to start off the day with the exercises we learned in grade school like jumping jacks, windmills and squats. No matter if you are warming up or engaged in a gardening task, pay attention to staying in balance and trying to develop regulated breathing.

Inhaling and exhaling while shoveling, hoeing or raking is where you get the additional oxygen that translates to energy which allows you to continue your task.

That’s it for a thousand words of wisdom for this week. Hope you enjoyed studying how to work and be healthy and I hope you learned as much from it as I did. I’m going to share a copy of this with a doctor friend of mine and I hope he’ll be as enthusiastic as I’m feeling. Plus … he’s going to be my neighbor shortly and I need to try to get along with him! No problem! Till next week! Good health and great gardening!


stevehallerSteve Haller, of Osage City, a K-State Research and Extension Master Gardener, writes The Garden Patch, featuring gardening ideas and tips for gardeners in northeast Kansas. In his words: “I am not a horticulturist. By education I am an economist. By experience, I am a marketing guru from a local to an international scale. Gardening was taught to me by my grandfather and my Mom, and I’ve been doing it since World War II was going on.”

Steve can be contacted at [email protected], or leave questions or comments below.


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