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Gardening is Exercise (page 3 of 4)

by Dan Hickey

Take Off Weight

If you're looking to lose a few inches around your waistline, or simply to maintain your weight, gardening is a wise choice. It's fun, relaxing, and enriching and happens to be healthful when done regularly. And study after study shows that if you enjoy the exercise activity, you'll probably stick with it.

Your daily weight loss depends on how many calories you consume and burn. It's a simple formula: If you burn more than you eat, you'll lose weight. Again moderation is key. Make sure that you're eating sensibly and reduce the amount of fats in your diet, then gradually increase your activity in the garden. Always check with your doctor before starting any weight-loss program.

Many gardening chores burn fat. Of course, the number of calories you burn depends on the type and intensity of activity and your weight. For example, a 200-pound man will burn more calories than a 170-pound man, even though they're both doing the same activity.

To lose 1 pound of fat, you must burn 3,500 more calories than you consume in any given period of time. A relatively inactive person with stable weight would, without any changes in diet, need to burn an extra 500 calories (3,500 divided by 7 = 500) a day in order to lose a pound in a week. The key, of course, is to eat less and do more. Gradually increase your activities while reducing your calorie intake. Studies indicate that a daily diet of 1,500 to 2,000 calories is best, and that losing a pound a week is sensible and more likely to be permanent than more drastic weight-loss regimes would be.

Dynamic Gardening

In order to maximize the exercise benefits from gardening, focus on the major muscle groups, advises Jeff Restuccio, author of Fitness the Dynamic Gardening Way (Balance of Nature Publishing, Cordova, TN, 1992; $12.95). Restuccio recommends simple techniques such as bending your knees while raking or placing a crate that requires you to step up and down as you move from one flower bed to the next.

"If you have ever raked, hoed, or weeded a garden bed, you already know that gardening is a good workout," Restuccio says. "But if you think about it in terms of human physiology, no one has ever shown us how to garden."

Turn garden work into garden exercise, he advises. The Tennessee-based author and martial arts expert recommends exaggerating movements to achieve maximum range of motion and changing gardening stances in order to use different muscles. 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 your hand positions as well.

Remember, sore muscles aren't proof that you've exercised. More often, stiffness and pain indicate inadequate or improper stretching and warm-up, or overuse of muscles. After gardening you should feel tired, not achy. Take time to stretch, and avoid marathon sessions turning compost, raking leaves, or shoveling snow. Above all, don't forget why you garden. Simply be aware of the duration and intensity of your gardening so that you accrue the maximum health benefits.

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