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Gardening is good exercise, too

By Karen Busby
Master Gardener volunteer
The good news is gardening can not only beautify your yard, it can also increase your physical fitness and mental outlook.
As with any new exercise, you should check with your doctor to be sure you are fit to begin a new physical activity.
The beauty of gardening as an exercise is that it happens at home. No need to spend money on gas or a gym membership, no special equipment to purchase, no requirement for spiffy new outfits; just grab the tools you already have: rakes, shovels, hoes and head for the backyard.
Remember that our ancestors used to farm in long sleeves, overalls and wide brim hats and they did not suffer the high rates of melanoma that we incur today. So slather on the sunscreen before you begin.
You will use all of your major muscle groups in your arms, legs, abdomen and back when doing garden chores. Therefore, it is important to warm up and stretch all of these muscle groups before you start.
Warm up before you stretch your muscles by taking a brisk walk around your yard. Stretch until you meet a bit of resistance, then hold each pose for 30 seconds. Warming up your muscles and stretching will increase your flexibility and avoid injury and, hopefully, muscle soreness.
There are risks to your body from any exercise, so don’t “overdo it.” Listen to your body’s clues. If some part begins to ache or you feel a twinge here or there, change to a new activity. Vary your routine in the garden, just as you would in the gym. For example, weed for 20 minutes, then grab the pruners and, later, mow for a while.
As with all exercise, regular gardening can decrease your blood pressure, help prevent diabetes, osteoporosis and increase you muscle tone.Sustained physical activity while gardening generally burns 300 calories per hour. Choosing to use a push mower can increase your total calorie burn by 300 calories or more.
Reading materials to learn how to beautify your landscape and planning your vegetable garden can engage your brain and increase your mental well-being.
Remember, too, that levers and pulleys were invented with your healthy back in mind. Use short stools rather than bending from the waist and use your leg muscles to lift, not your back. You will be surprised how fit you will feel at the end of the gardening season as a result of your hard work and creativity. You will be proud of yourself and the fruits of your labor.
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Karen Busby is a Master Gardener Volunteer with the Cooperative Extension Service in Rowan County.

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