Get fit and stay safe with these five tips.
Getting your yard in shape can get your body in shape, too. Just 30 to 45 minutes of yardwork or gardening can burn 150 calories, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“You can transform gardening into something that won’t just make you sore but will instead make you fit in a comprehensive way,” says Jeffrey Restuccio, author of Get Fit Through Gardening. Change your approach to yardwork with these tips, and you’ll reap the fitness benefits.
1. Gradually Increase the Intensity
Think about how you approach a workout: You don’t jump right in to the hardest exercises without warming up a little. Yardwork should be treated the same.
Before you grab your tools, warm up with a walk around the yard and some gentle stretches. Start your work with smaller tasks like pruning, weeding, or planting small plants before you move on to more intense tasks like digging, moving mulch, or mowing. Take plenty of short breaks to drink water and give your body a break.
2. Use Your Legs and Core, Not Your Arms and Shoulders
The basic movement patterns of exercise apply to gardening, too. “Pushing, pulling, lunging, rotating, and squatting—all activities in the garden involve various iterations or combinations of those,” says Anthony Wall, health and fitness expert for the American Council on Exercise.
Instead of relying on your arms for most of your power, though, use your legs and core, Restuccio says. Your legs, abs, chest, and lower back can provide more power than your arms. Plus, you’ll avoid a sore neck and shoulders the next day. Try getting into a crouching or slight squatting position, keeping your back straight and rocking back and forth to move your rake, hoe, or shovel, Restuccio says. If you bend over to pull weeds, try lunging or kneeling on one knee instead. If you need to sit down to garden, bend at the waist to avoid hunching over.
3. Change Your Stance Regularly
When you’re doing a specific task, move positions every few minutes so you don’t put repetitive stress on particular muscles or joints. Vary which knee you kneel on, which leg you lunge on, and even which arm or hand you use. This will distribute the work across more parts of your body.
4. Choose Tools with Long Handles
“A handheld trowel is not a particularly good tool because you’re stabbing at the ground,” Restuccio says, but a five- to six-foot handle lets you use your legs and core to pull the tool across your body. You don’t need to buy all new gear: Transform handheld tools into longer ones by attaching them to PVC piping.
5. Protect Yourself from Heat, Sun, and Bugs
Sip water while you work to avoid becoming dehydrated. Your body’s ability to conserve water is reduced and your sense of thirst weakens with age, so it’s important to drink even if you aren’t thirsty. (See “5 Sneaky Signs You’re Dehydrated.”) And don’t forget to wear sunscreen and bug spray.