Home gardeners in the United States this year will be pleased to learn that gardening is a waist shrinker, a weight reducer, and a sleep inducer. Working in the garden is nature’s painless way to keep the waistline down. Did you know you can use up more calories per hour gardening than you do by walking or bicycling?

Figures from the University of Illinois show that bicycling or walking use up to 200 calories per hour, and lawnmowing (hand or push) uses 270 calories per hour. Ditch digging, a task similar to spading, uses 400 calories per hour. Gardening is a moderate, and sometimes-strenuous exercise, which incorporates many important elements of accepted exercise regimes, such as stretching or stance, repetition and movement and even resistance principles similar to weight training, while expending calories.

Gardening provides an adequate and challenging workout, but is not as stressful to the body as other exercise options, such as jogging or aerobics. It’s still important to warm up muscle groups by properly stretching before gardening and it’s imperative to use proper techniques for lifting objects, bending or carrying. You can alternate the more rigorous gardening activities with the easier ones as you get used to working out in your garden. Remember to take your time and don’t overdo it.

When doing yard work, using proper technique is important for injury prevention. Twisting, turning and bending can lead to back injuries and muscle strains. Be especially careful when raking leaves, shoveling snow or digging in the garden. 

Try these tips to reduce your risk of injury:

· Warm up with a short walk before you begin, followed by light stretching.

· Keep your stomach muscles tight when doing any activity. This keeps your back properly aligned.

· Don’t twist when raking, shoveling or digging. Keep your feet shoulder-width apart with one foot forward. Alternate which foot you put in front.

· Lift with your legs, not your back. To do so, bend at your knees when picking up heavy objects instead of bending over at the waist. And don’t twist your back as you lift. If you have to turn, rotate your entire body.

· When you are bending over, keep one knee on the ground when you are weeding rather than bending at the waist. As you work through your gardening movements, try balancing the use of your left and right sides. Even sitting and weeding can provide some exercise as you work your arms and waist.

· Breathe right. Exhale when you lift a heavy object and inhale when you put it down. Never hold your breath.

· Carry things close to your body. This lessons the strain on your back and neck.

· Vary movements. Don’t stay too long in one position or do all the work using one arm. Switching it up can prevent muscle strain and spasms.

Remember that yard work is exercise. Doing too much too soon can leave you sore, tired and hurt. 

Start slowly and work up to the more strenuous movements in your garden and don’t forget to take frequent breaks. 

Another benefit of gardening as a workout is the mental and emotional lift you get from being outside and working on something you enjoy. Gardening can lower your stress levels and produce endorphins that elevate your mood. Being outdoors exposes us to fresh air and sunlight, which helps produce the recommended amount of vitamin D. Vitamin D helps with the absorption of calcium, which is essential to forming and maintaining strong bones and teeth as well as fighting osteoporosis.

Of course, the healthy food you will harvest from your garden will add to the benefits of gardening. You can’t get that from going to the gym! The next time you consider where to spend time to benefit your health and wellness, think of the garden. You’ll get so much more out of a healthy and stress-free workout in your own backyard. Also, unlike many exercise options, you can become involved in what you are doing and still take time to smell the roses!

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