Gardening Exercise DayGardening Exercise Day

If you’ve been looking for a way to work on your azaleas and your abs at the same time, mark June 6 on your calendar. It’s National Gardening Exercise Day. Holiday experts say the day’s origins aren’t quite clear, but fitness researchers say gardening can deliver real fitness benefits. Here’s what gardening can do for your health, how to make the most of your time outside, and how to protect yourself from common gardening aches and pains.

Burning calories in the garden

Depending on which chores you do, you can burn a surprising number of calories doing garden work. Texas A&M University’s Agrilife Extension Program says raking, weeding, and other moderately intense chores can burn as much as 300 calories per hour, depending on your pace and your overall fitness level. Women’s Health cites South Korean research on garden volunteers that ranked yard work in order of intensity. Digging, raking, weeding, and mulching were the top 4 most challenging chores. Harvesting, watering, mixing growing soil, and planting seedlings were the least challenging, but the researchers still rated them as moderately intense, based on the volunteers’ calorie burn and heart rate during their work.

Preventing sore joints, sunburn and bug bites

You’ll enjoy your time in the garden more – and feel fewer twinges and aches later – if you follow a few best practices. Weight Watchers recommends warming up with stretches for a few minute before you dig in to your gardening chores and again after 20 minutes or so to release any new tension in your muscles.

The right form and equipment are important. Remember to bend from the knees rather than at the hips when you’re lifting things to prevent back strain. If squatting and kneeling for ground-level chores is too hard on your knees, use a cushion or a low garden stool to get comfortable while you work. Lightweight and soft-grip tools can ease wrist, hand, and shoulder strain.

Finally, remember that Mother Nature can be a tough workout coach. Slather on sunscreen, a hat, and sunglasses to protect your skin and eyes from UV damage. If mosquitoes are a problem in your area, use a good repellent to avoid bites and disease. Give yourself a break during the heat of the day – as we age we are more susceptible to dehydration and heat exhaustion, so mid-afternoon is a good time to relax indoors with a seed catalog or gardening book.

Training for garden chores

Gardeners may not train with the intensity of marathon runners, but there are exercises you can do to make your gardening tasks easier. AARP Magazine recommends a simple indoor workout that includes “pushups” against a countertop edge, repetitions of the classic “bird dog” yoga pose, chair-assisted squats and adapted plank poses to boost your ability to bend, lift, rake, and haul things in your garden.

Gardening when you don’t have a yard

You don’t need a big backyard to get into gardening for exercise. If you have a small strip of sod in front of your home, or even a porch or patio with space for a few 5-gallon buckets, you can get started. Many cities and towns run community gardens where locals can grow veggies, herbs, and flowers, and a growing number of senior communities are offering garden plots as a perk for their residents. If your community doesn’t offer gardening space yet, consider making a request.

Casey Kelly-Barton is an Austin-based freelance writer whose childhood was made awesome by her grandmothers, great-grandmother, great-aunts and -uncles, and their friends.

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