Gardening as Exercise and my weekly checkpoint
I feel like this post needs to come with one of those don’t-sue-me disclaimers. I’m not a doctor. I’m a librarian and a gardener. I have about two years of experience that I’m revealing in this post, experience that allows me to garden in a way that no longer hurts my back and knees — or at least they don’t hurt for long. Humans have similar bodies, but not the same, so you need to experiment with your own body. Just sayin’.
How many books would you guess there are on gardening as exercise? At least two, and I really think I remember looking at a third one but I’m not tracking it down at the moment.
Get fit through gardening: advice, tips, and tools for better health featuring the unique exercise plan to save your back and knees! by Jeffrey P. Restuccio has a bit of a quirky take on the idea. He advocates setting up stations in your yard so that you can do rake lunges for a few minutes, then jog over to your weeding station where you’ll do squats for a few minutes. Or something like that. When I’m in the yard I need to get gardening work done so that didn’t go over well with me. On the other hand, I’m pretty sure it was this book that had photos of proper stances to take while doing gardening tasks and those were invaluable to my development as a fit gardener.
The other book, Garden your way to health and fitness : exercise plans, injury prevention, ergonomic designs by Bunny Guinness and Jacqueline Knox, is more of a general gardening book that happens to have lots of ideas for how to stay fit in your own yard. One of the authors is a Pilates instructor so this book helped with paying attention to what my body is doing and how it’s feeling and what might feel better.
These books helped me establish Joy’s Rule for Gardening without Pain: Never bend over from the waist. And a corollary: In order to never bend over from the waist, I need to be strong enough to get low to the ground in other ways, particularly squatting and lunging. Until I achieved some strength in my quads and glutes, I didn’t fully realize what I was missing and what I was doing wrong.
That strength development happened as a result of another New Year’s Resolution (I seem to be sharing a lot of those this month). In January 2010, I was determined to get strong enough that I could garden without injury. Winter was the perfect time — by the time that planting season rolled around, I was strong enough to squat and lunge instead of bend. This helped both my back and my knees.
Strong quads and glutes also help with shoveling snow, by the way, although it was another year or so before I fully got the knack of squatting while using a long-handled tool like a pitch fork or shovel. That was the final skill that means I no longer injure myself (knock on wood) when I’m doing outside work.
I started off with a DVD called 10 Minute Solution: Target Toning for Beginners (streamed from Netflix) and the Wii Fit Plus routines. I also had some luck with Jillian Michaels 30 Day Shred, although her attitude got old quickly. I liked Ellen Barrett’s Fat Burning Fusion which is more of a general workout but has strength-training moves threaded into the routine. The link is to Collage Video, a great site for buying exercise videos because they have clips — you can make sure that you can stand to listen to that instructor’s voice before you buy.
All of this is leading up to my Checkpoint of how I did with exercise this week. We had crazy warm weather for January, so a lot of my exercise minutes went into gardening. I count my gardening as exercise based on my perceived exertion. If I’m working as hard as I would on another type of workout, I count all the minutes. If I weed for an hour but use my kneeler seat, so that I’m kneeling or sitting half the time, I’ll only count it as 30 minutes of exercise. This morning, I weeded for twenty minutes, but I left the kneeler seat in the garage and did it all with squats and lunges — I’ll count all twenty of those minutes and wait 48 hours before I do leg exercises just as I would if I were doing a more conventional strength training workout. Something I’ve noticed in the last few months is that I’m getting better at making sure I move in ways in the garden that will allow me to count more minutes as exercise.
January goal: 1300 minutes and 8 video workouts
As of last night, I had 380 minutes and 0 video workouts. Not on pace for either, but within spitting distance. Next week, I want to report that I’m on pace for both!
To see how other Checkpoint participants are doing, see Mari’s post at Bookworm with a View: CHECKpoint! Jan 10.
Hi Joy! I’m so glad I stopped by your blog today. I enjoy gardening and working out – yoga, pilates, and cardio. I find both are very relaxing for me. Your suggestion to combine gardening and fitness is a great idea. I’m going to definitely read the two books you’ve recommended here. Thank you.
Oh, what a cool way to lose weight! I have always wanted a garden, but I am just horrible at actually keeping plants alive. I have this dream, though, of growing my own vegetables and eating them and then canning them for winter. It’s a big dream, but maybe one day!
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I’m going to add these to my Secret Santa list.