A growing trend in exercise

May 05, 1997

Gardening is a good way to get your exercise plan off the ground.

The activity doesn't take the place of a regular workout, but it can help you get your body and yard in shape.

Recent research found that moderate activities, such as gardening for 30 to 45 minutes most days of the week, have significant health benefits. Regular physical activity reduces the risk of dying from heart disease; lowers the risk of developing high blood pressure, diabetes and colon cancer; builds and maintains healthy muscles, bones and joints; and helps control weight, according to The Surgeon General's Report on Physical Activity and Health.

Longtime gardeners say weeding, digging and hoeing are enjoyable methods of staying fit.

"Gardening is one of those things that keeps people young," says Chris Tischer, a member of Hagerstown Garden Club.

Molly Cronk of Waynesboro, Pa., a Blue Ridge Garden Club member, says she gardens three to four times a week.


"It makes you feel good to be out in the air," she says.

Gardening, like other forms of exercise, is easier if done in small chunks of time, Tischer says.

Map out the different parts of your garden or yard, making each a manageable size that you can work on in a few minutes, says Tischer, a Hagerstown resident.

"Even 20 minutes before sunset is better than nothing," Tischer says.

Because the effects of exercise are cumulative, every bit helps.

"Every time I go out, I pull out a weed," Cronk says.

Getting started

Gardeners can reap the most benefits when they also do aerobic activities such as walking, running or biking, says Jennifer Huber, a recreational therapist at Washington County Hospital.

Cronk swims several times a week, and Tischer tries to go for a walk every other day.

If you're out of shape, you should check with your physician before starting any exercise program, Huber says.

In gardening, as in other forms of exercise, it's a good idea to warm up first, she says.

It's tempting to spend a whole day on a marathon weeding session, but you could end up paying for it later.

Cronk, who says she has back problems, advises others to take it easy.

"If you've got a bad back, make it 45 minutes maximum," Cronk says. "Your head likes doing it, but you know the next day your back will be in trouble."

Gardening also is good exercise for people with disabilities, Huber says. There are many devices to make gardening easier, including taller planting pots and tools with larger handles for those whose fine motor skills are limited.

Cronk and Tischer both say weeding is a good way to relieve stress.

Think of each weed as something that bothers you, Tischer says.

"It's like taking something disagreeable from your life and getting rid of it," Tischer says.

 Gardening tips:

Here are some tips for safe gardening:

- Take frequent rest periods, especially in hot weather.

- Drink plenty of water, as gardeners can become dehydrated easily.

- Wear protective clothing when gardening, including comfortable shoes with good support. A hat can help keep the sun off your face. Gloves also are a good form of protection, especially for older gardeners, as the skin gets thinner with age.

- Avoid insects such as bees, ticks and mosquitoes.

- Use a foam pad or piece of carpet when kneeling, and let your garden tools do the work for you.

- Instead of moving one large load, break it into several smaller ones. You'll get more exercise from moving the extra loads.

- Using correct posture can help reduce the risk of injury.

Bend your knees when picking up heavy bags of mulch or fertilizer.

Remember to lift with your knees, not your back.

- Teri Johnson

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