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Stay Fit by Gardening

By Patty Brittingham, Colorado State University Cooperative Extension Master Gardener, Denver County

Something happens to us when the sun shines. Our bodies rev into higher gear and we want to exercise. Gardening is a great way to do it. You can burn calories and end up with a beautiful landscape to show for it.

Flower and vegetable gardening can burn up to 300 calories an hour. You work the major muscle groups as you dig and turn the soil for mulching and fertilizing. Just lifting and carrying bags of soil and compost uses lots of energy. Then, digging the planting hole and carrying container plants to the garden fully uses the back and leg muscle groups. Hint: Always be sure to lift with the legs to protect the back!

Weeding and pruning can furnish a great workout for the arms and legs as you squat and lunge to reach different plants. Be sure to reposition yourself frequently to distribute the work to different muscles and avoid twisting that can lead to pulled muscles.

Avoid staying on the knees too long and hunching over the back and neck muscles for long stretches. Take frequent breaks, look up at the sky and stretch out by doing some pruning in between. By varying your overhead pruning activities with the bending, weeding activities, you will take a load off specific muscles and get in a little "cross-training."

The Wall Street Journal reported recently that mowing your lawn may just be the new aerobic exercise. When you use an old-fashioned push-mower, you can burn up to 400-to-500 calories an hour. And, with a power mower, you still can burn as much as 250-to-300 calories per hour. The muscles you use to push and pull the mower work and tone the chest, biceps, triceps, back and shoulders. Butt and thighs also get a good workout. Cardiovascular and fat-burning effects come from the increased heart rate and heavy breathing it requires.

An important reminder: When working outside, ALWAYS wear plenty of sunscreen to avoid sunburn.

Photograph courtesy of Judy Sedbrook.

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Date last revised: 01/05/2010