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Dig it! Yard Work and Gardening for Exercise
Tending to your yard can be just as good for your health as a gym workout. Mind these tips before you dig in.

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Dig it! Yard Work and Gardening for Exercise

If you are a home gardener, you probably dream of lush lawns, colorful flowerbeds and delicious vegetables. Do you also dream of a stronger, healthier you? An hour of gardening or yard work builds strength, improves flexibility and can burn a whopping 300 calories.

Get ready
This year, go beyond just gazing at seed catalogs. Get ready for gardening by preparing yourself. If you aren't used to working in the yard, check with your doctor before you increase your activity level. If gardening is a go, start out slowly.

Here are some tips that can make your gardening more fun and less painful:

  • Get a tetanus shot if you need one. Tetanus lives in the soil and enters the body through breaks in the skin, making gardeners more at risk of these infections. Before gardening, make sure your tetanus/diphtheria vaccination is up to date. For adults, this includes a tetanus vaccination every 10 years if there have been no injuries. In the case of injury, you may need one sooner than 10 years.
  • Strengthen your muscles to help protect against back strains and soreness resulting from squatting and bending. Also, be sure to use the correct body mechanics while gardening. The following are examples of simple exercises that may help strengthen the muscles often used during gardening.

    Squatting. Stand in front of a chair, feet shoulder-width apart, arms in front of you. Bend your knees and slowly squat, gently touch the chair seat without fully sitting down, then stand up using only your legs. Repeat 10 times. In the garden, squat the right way by keeping your torso upright, then lower yourself until your bottom almost touches the ground. Try to keep your weight on your heels.

    Bending. Get down on all fours, with your hands underneath your shoulders and your knees underneath your hips. Tighten your abdominal muscles while simultaneously raising your right arm and straightening your left leg, keeping your back straight. Hold for 6 seconds. Return to the starting position, switch sides, and repeat 10 times. In the garden, bend the right way by tightening your leg muscles as you bend forward. Keep your knees slightly bent.

Mix it up
To get a total body workout, do a variety of activities during a gardening session. Work your upper body by turning compost, hand-pulling weeds or raking. Tone your thighs and glutes by digging.

Be safe
The sun, tools, chemicals, insects and the plants themselves all conspire to add little risks to gardening. Avoid unwanted trouble with these tips:

  • Dress to protect. Wear long pants, sturdy shoes and gloves. Wear safety goggles when using a mower or other equipment.
  • Head off the pests. Use insect repellent containing DEET and discourage ticks by tucking your pants into your socks.
  • Deflect the rays. Wear long sleeves, a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses and sunscreen with sun protective factor (SPF) of 15 or higher.
  • Beware the heat. Drink enough fluids to stay well-hydrated; avoid drinks containing alcohol or large amounts of sugar. In hot or humid weather, take frequent breaks in the shade. Avoid gardening at midday, usually 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., when it's often hottest.
  • Respect your equipment. Tools - both manual and power - can cause serious injury. Wear ear protection around loud machinery. Lower your injury risk by staying focused and following directions when using chemicals and equipment.

Remember that gardening and yard work are exercise. Doing too much, too soon can leave you sore, tired and discouraged. Start slowly and take frequent breaks. Whether you are a beginner or an expert, health and safety are always important.

By Mary Small, Contributing Writer
Created on 09/23/2004
Updated on 06/07/2013
  • American Council on Exercise. Gardening and exercise.
  • American Association of Retired Persons. Exercise tips for gardeners.
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Family health. Gardening health and safety tips.
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