Healthy Multitasking: Get Your Exercise While Gardening

Do you laugh out loud when people say they get their exercise by gardening? If so, you may be thinking that gardeners simply putter about, planting pansies. Sounds like you’ve never tended to a community garden, where you may haul 500 pounds of cow manure or plant 30 trees!

Simply putting a few wheelbarrows full of fresh wood chips around a raised garden bed may have you feeling sore the next day. In short, gardening can be a major workout. Here’s how to make it safe and effective:

1. Assess your current fitness level. See your doctor if you have any concerns or haven’t been active in a while. Gardening involves walking, bending, lifting, twisting, crouching, and even heart-pounding cardio that will have you sweating in mere moments. If your idea of exercise has been walking to the office elevator to go one floor up, you really need to start slow and, like your plants, grow in the garden.

2. Wear appropriate “sports” clothes. You wouldn’t dream of swimming without a bathing suit or running without the right footwear. So consider these “dress-to-win” tips when gardening. Dress in layers when it’s colder out, and, no matter the season, wear appropriate sun protection. Be extra conscientious about footwear—closed-toe shoes are best. When you’re out in the garden, you’re around sharp tools and, occasionally, an unexpected mound of fire ants.

3. Warm up your muscles. Don’t just grab that pitchfork and start tossing the compost pile. Walk a bit. Do a few stretches. Loosen up the joints. Try a moving meditation like yoga or Tai Chi. Then, establish a comfortable pace with frequent breaks to catch your breath and have a sip of water. Switch sides when doing a repetitive garden task. And don’t be a hero, and do more than what feels comfortable.

4. Establish a goal. If fitness is an important reason you’re gardening, try to attain your objectives each time you garden. Perhaps you want to spread wood chips at the community garden for half an hour, or spend two hours building a fence. Voice your goal to others so that they don’t distract you with conversation or brownies at the picnic table (at least not until later).

5. Offer your physical help. Many seniors and those with physical limitations are involved with community gardening but have difficulty with some of the more physical tasks. Offering to help them kills two birds with one stone—you help build community while getting a good workout. What’s more, they may be happy to return the favor, providing you with extra seeds or an extra hand when needed.

6. Take a leadership position. If you want to be sure you won’t slack off on your fitness routine, lead a community garden team that requires regular action, like the compost team or the grounds committee. You might also offer to mow the lawn or pick up the giant tubs of kitchen scraps from local restaurants. And keep an eye out for opportunities to get your heart pumping at the garden—stacking bales of hay, moving frames for raised garden beds, turning cover crops into the soil, hoeing weeds, hand-pulling Bermuda grass, and more. You may just find that the community garden has become your new gym.

Want to pump it up even more? Walk or ride your bike to and from the garden for extra exercise. Just be careful with that pitchfork.

Tap in next week when I share some tips about sourcing supplies for your garden.

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