The Garden Patch: Gardening to good health, Part 2

052514-garden-excericiseOK, let’s carry on from last time visiting about health and gardening! Here we go …

Gardening increases energy levels

Dr. Anthony Komaroff, MD, writes a daily syndicated article on various medical issues. The good doctor says there are at least four ways that regular exercise makes you feel more energetic:

“When you exercise, more energy-producing mitochondria form in your muscle cells. Mitochondria are the cellular powerhouses that convert glucose, fat and oxygen into the substance that cells use for energy. So while exercise burns energy, it also enables muscle cells to produce more energy.

“Any type of regular exercise also creates more tiny blood vessels. Those vessels bring more oxygen (and glucose and fat) to every one of your cells. Breathing deeply and increasing your heart rate gets the most oxygen circulating.

“Exercise also affects levels of hormones and chemical messengers. When you work out (in the garden), your body releases epinephrine and norepinephrine. In large amounts, these stress hormones cause the energy-draining fight or flight response. But in the modest amounts induced by exercise, they make you feel energized. Exercise also boosts levels of compounds called endorphins. They are the “feel-good” chemicals that lift your mood. An elevated mood in itself can be an energy booster.

“Finally, regular exercise by gardening almost guarantees that you will sleep more soundly – and good sleep is essential for feeling refreshed. Exercise is the only proven way to increase the amount of time you spend in deep sleep, the kind that particularly restores energy. The more deep sleep you get, the less likely you are to awaken in the middle of the night, and the more rested you will feel the next day.”

Losing weight by gardening

Losing weight requires you to burn more calories than you consume and so the amount of weight you’ll lose gardening depends on several factors, including your size and the task you are performing. The National Institute of Health lists gardening for 30 – 45 minutes in its recommended activities for moderate levels of exercise to combat obesity, along with biking five miles in 30 minutes and walking two miles in the same time. Some of the more strenuous gardening tasks can really burn calories. Digging holes or shoveling for one hour burns about 400 calories in men and 300 in women. Raking is another good activity and burns a few less calories than using a cultivator or spade. These gardening activities provide some exercise for your legs, back and arms as well. The reason is that the ground is providing resistance and thus, your muscles work hard to remove the earth.

Using a push or powered mower is also an excellent workout. However, not all mowers will give you the same kind of exercise. If you use a push, reel mower, women can burn almost 400 calories an hour, while men burn almost 500. (This from Sherry Rindels, University of Iowa, 11/10/1993.)

Weeding is good exercise! According to the AARP activity calculator, a 175 pound person can burn around 180 calories per half hour through activities such as raking, planting, weeding and pruning.

One of the best gardening activities you can do to both work muscles and burn calories is to move compost. You can burn over 100 calories when you turn the compost pile for 15 minutes.

How to derive maximum benefits – use proper gardening technique

One universal principle to avoid injury if you work a lot with vegetables or flowers is to plant in raised beds, which will help prevent both back strain and knee problems by limiting how far you need to bend and reach.

The height of a raised bed is a matter of individual choice: Some people prefer them to be 18 inches while others advocate 36 inches. Today, there are even designs for wheelchair friendly raised beds. If you don’t want to build raised beds, or can’t, another tactic is to garden while seated in a chair or stool or to work with one knee on the ground or use a kneeling pad. Companies have websites that sell ergonomically designed tools and pads to assist gardeners.

Another way to keep injuries at bay is to learn the proper way to stand, sit and move. Remember to always bend from the knees, not the waist, because of the strain that places on your lower back. Be careful when pushing or pulling heavy objects: let the larger arm and thigh muscles carry the load – not your back. Never use jerky, twisting or rough movements; move slowly and deliberately. And don’t be macho; let gardening equipment and tools do the job for you. Carrying plants and bags of potting soil all over the yard can result in being laid up for the next week with back spasms. That’s what wheelbarrows are for!

According to an article by Mary Predny, published by the Virginia Cooperative Extension at Virginia Tech, squatting can put unnecessary strain on the knees if done incorrectly or for long periods of time. When squatting, keep feet flat with weight evenly distributed. Squatting with heels off the ground can potentially damage knee ligaments. Preferred work positions would be having one knee on the ground, working on hands and knees using a kneeling pad, or sitting on a chair or stool. If you use a chair or stool, place it close to the area where you are working and use long handled tools to avoid straining the upper body. If a kneeling pad is inconvenient to carry, then try using strap-on knee pads.

OK! One more column after this one about healthy gardening – then on to other things! Is your garden growing? What’s planted? What’s up? Ready for summer? Till next week!


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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