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Gardening for Health and Satisfaction

Can you guess what the number one leisure time activity in the US is? Looking at the title of this article, it has to be gardening. We have reported over and over that even moderate exercise decreases the risk of numerous chronic diseases, that it can help us control those diseases and prevent complications, but with gardening, you get the amazing bonus of beauty as you have helped your garden to bloom. What else could anyone ask for?

April is the month, where we live, that we clean up the garden after the winter. To tell the truth, the very heavy work we farm out to our gardener. But raking, trimming and pruning bushes and low branches, getting the flower beds ready, seeding grass, etc.-all of this we do on a schedule of so many minutes a day or week. We vary our exercise outside. Some days we walk, others we play tennis or golf, but spring is the best season for just getting back outside and looking around at all of the changes that have occurred over the winter.


Research shows us that gardening is an ideal form of exercise because, in addition to its physical exertion values, it also has many merits. Gardening is moderate and sometimes strenuous, exercise that incorporates many important elements of accepted exercise regimes including stretching, stance, repetition and movement as well as resistance principles similar to weight training. Regular garden chores can burn anywhere from 120 to 100 calories each half hour. Of course this depends on the intensity of the activity. If you continue reading this article, we’ll list those calories burned for many gardening chores at the end. So keep reading.


If you have not been exercising during the winter, and we know you have, then you will need to begin stretching at least two or three weeks before beginning outdoor chores. But if you really haven’t been exercising, go to your physician and get a medical clearance for exercise, your goals and any precautions your doctor may advise. Please look back at our Exercise articles for examples of how to stretch and cool down. Regular stretching of legs, arms, back and even hands and feet are essential to prevent aches and pains. You will also want to begin crunches, leg and arm lifts, squats and even push-ups so that your unused muscles will not make you miserable after your first attempt at clearing out the winter from your garden.

Some of us like to make gardening more aerobic. There is actually aerobic gardening out there, with books, etc. In this type of gardening we try to get our heart rates up by raking, hoeing, weeding or placing boxes between beds so that you have to step up and down to get from one bed to another. You have your own step class, but with flowers or vegetables as a reward some time in the future. The experts also suggest changing stances. For example, when raking put your left foot forward and use your left hand on the lower handle. Then switch the right foot forward and switch you hand positions.

With gardening the saw “no pain, no gain” is not true. More often than not, the stiffness and pain indicate inadequate or improper stretching and warm-up, or over use of muscles. After gardening you should feel tired or dirty and tired, but not achy. Take time to stretch, as we suggested above. Avoid marathon sessions of anything. Hours of turning compost, raking or shoveling is above and beyond what you will want to do. Above all, don’t forget why you garden. Be aware of the amount of time you are spending outdoors and intensity of the activity you are doing. And make sure you protect yourself.

Protect yourself from the sun. Wear sunscreen, sunglasses, a hat and appropriate clothing.

Know your equipment and use it in a safe manner. Wear safety glasses when trimming the trees and shrubs.

Protect you hands and feet. We know how good if may feel to go barefooted, but we diabetics need to protect our feet at all times. Do examine your feet after you come in just incase. Wear closed toe shoes that fit well and are comfortable.

When working with thorny plants like roses, wear something thick and long-sleeved like a sweatshirt that goes all the way down over your gloves. The consequence of not doing this is lots of bloody boo-boos that may wipe off on your clothes, and wounds that may not heal for days.

When applying chemical pesticides, use caution. Always read the directions before you begin. Keep records of spray dates. Keep animals out of the garden until the area is safe for children and pets.

Protect yourself from biting insects by wearing bug repellent.

Be careful when lifting heavy objects. Use your legs, not your back. We all know that our legs are stronger than our backs.

Since we have already decided that gardening is exercise, make sure you stretch, warm up and cool down after you are done. Drink lots of waterwhile you are outside, especially if you are doing some vigorous exercise. Take time off out of the sun and relax your muscles.

Keep your glucose monitoring equipment near by. It’s easy to confuse all that sweating as caused by the sun on your body rather than hypoglycemia. I know, I have and that’s not good.

If you are on your knees, use a cushion. Keep your back straight and don’t sit on your heels. Stand up and stretch your legs every 10 minutes or so.

Use a lightweight long handled shovel or spade and never overload it. Bend at the knee and step forward as you raise and dump each shovel full of soil.

Bend at the knees and hips when picking up tools.

Have your glucose tablets or other carbohydrates in your pocket.

Finally, to make sure you will enjoy your time with the flowers, take your blood glucose levels before you go outside. Knowing where you start will help you decide when to retest. Just in case my blood glucose level begins to fall, I set my watch to beep to remind me to retake my blood level.

How can we maximize the calories we burn during gardening? Use a push mower rather than a riding one. This is a great way to get exercise once or twice a week. Do mow before the heat of the day and do not try to do rigorous activity in the heat if you have cardiovascular disease. Speak to your physician first. If your lawn is very large, maybe you can push mow only a part of the yard. Plan a daily gardening activity. This can really be a year round project. Snow blowing is also gardening.

Vary your activities. Don’t repeat the same action for hours, as you’ll feel it later. Break up the strenuous stuff with more enjoyable tasks. For example, set firm time limits on digging, and vary that with easy weeding or planting. Watch your watch. You only need 30 minutes a day, so remember that you don’t have to do everything in one day or even one week. The good thing about gardening is that it is on-going and that there are people out there who will be happy to help you with the tasks that are just too hard to do. Dig holes if your doctor allows. Digging really burns calories (250 to 350 calories per half hour). This will depend on the muscles in your arms, legs, stomach, shoulders, neck and back.

Make a compost pile. Now is a good time to start one, and turning compost burns 250 to 300 calories per half hour.

Listen to your body and especially your muscles. If you can add resistance or weights to an activity, do so. But, and here’s the big but, do not use your back. Remember, those legs are your strength and your abs should be able to protect you.

Gardening uses all major muscle groups-the muscles that do much of the calorie burning. Your entire body will get a workout. It also increases flexibility and strengthens joints. But, how much is enough? Today, experts tell us you can break up exercise sessions into short bursts of moderate activity. So, take breaks, but try to get in 30 minutes of activity a day. You could mow in the morning for 10 minutes, weed in the evening for 20, or rotate. Just remember, sitting in a flower garden is not exercise. Moderate exercise is equated with walking 3-4 miles per hour. Finally, as we suggested at the beginning of this article, combine your exercises. The weather has broken and so it’s time to get outdoors. Try cycling, walking, and outdoor aerobic class, yoga, swimming or what ever you like.

Calories burned while you garden:

We promised you this list, so here goes. These are for 30 minute time frames for a 180 pound man. If you weigh less, you’ll burn fewer calories.

Sitting quietly-40
Water a lawn or garden -61
Riding mower-101
Trimming shrubs-142
Raking-162
Bagging leaves-162
Planting seedlings-162
Mowing with gas mower-182
Weeding-182
Gardening with heavy power tools-243
Mowing lawn with a push mower-243