Sunday, August 5, 2007

Cardio: Gardening as Exercise?

When most people think of cross training fitness routines, they picture bicycling, running on a treadmill, aerobic classes or swimming. Surprisingly, gardening can also serve as a form of exercise and has helped numerous people lose and keep off excess weight.

Not only does it burn calories, but it also combines stretching and resistance principles found in weight lifting. The speed and amount of work a person does determines how many calories are expended during each gardening session. For example, a person weighing 150 pounds will burn only 40 to 50 calories per hour planting seeds but approximately 90 calories per hour by digging.

Furthermore, gardening provides whole body conditioning. Activities such as raking, hoeing and sweeping offer an aerobic workout while digging and lifting works the muscles in your arms, legs, back, shoulders and buttocks. When performed at least three times per week for 20 minutes or more, a person will experience greater weight loss that stays off.

Perhaps the greatest benefits of gardening, however, are that it is fun and enhances self-esteem. By watching your garden grow, especially if you started from small seeds and bare earth, you will begin to develop confidence in your abilities. On top of this, you will start to feel better about yourself as your whole body becomes toned and the extra weight drops away.

During the warmer months, it is usually best to do your gardening in the early morning or evening hours just before the sun goes down. When the weather turns colder, the best hours for these activities will vary according to factors such as rain, daylight, etc.

While no special clothing or shoes are necessary, you should aim for comfortable shoes and clothes that can get dirty. Gardening gloves are also important to protect hands from scratches and other similar injuries. Make sure to use sunscreen on uncovered patches of skin when the sun is out. Other useful objects are a mat to kneel on, sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat.

Finally, depending on what type of gardening you do, you will need some tools. In order to get a full aerobic workout, it is a good idea to have a rake, shovel and hoe. The longer-handled tools seem to offer the best workout.

If you've never gardened before, not only do you need to educate yourself about proper planting procedures and plants suitable to your climate and region, but you'll also want to start out slow with an activity such as weeding or planting. As your body becomes accustomed to the work, progress to hoeing, tilling the soil and digging chores. Gradually increase the time that you work as well as the days per week.

And, as with every fitness program, attempt to engage in a variety of gardening chores each week. This will keep you interested as well as working a variety of muscles, which will reduce the risk of injury to overstressed joints and muscles.

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