Ah!  Saturday morning, the day before the first day of spring.  I got up feeling like I was 60 going on 30.  I read my morning paper while I ate a very satisfying breakfast that incorporated some frozen veggies from  last year’s garden.  I got a phone call from a gardening buddy who couldn’t wait to tell me that he had started his seeds the day before and that he had high hopes for his garden this year.  The fact that he had started the process now, in March, fueled his expectations and subsequent desire to get out and start working the soil too.  After all, the sun was shining…the temperature was rising and the ground was dry.  Not so surprisingly, his enthusiasm was contagious.  I looked out my office window and said to myself, “he was right!”  “Get out there and do some damage to the yard, after all you’ve got to start sometime.”

 

So I got dressed, gathered my tools and got out there.  Mmmmm!  I took a nice deep breath as I surveyed the yard.  Where do I start?  Well, the first thing I did was to take a look at the compost pile that I started last year.  Not much going on there, so I moved over to last year’s flowerbeds.  I thrusted my shovel in the ground and turned over a blade’s worth of dirt.  Now this was easy!  The dirt here was nice and soft, the shovel penetrated the ground with ease and I quickly turned the two beds over and even managed to expand them a bit. 

 

Feeling good, I looked at the main garden plot and decided that I should tackle this baby now…today.  Considering how easy it was to work the flowerbeds, this was going to be a breeze.  Halfway through the section I was turning over it hit me and hit me hard!  My back started to tighten up…my knees began to ache…my arms went limp…I was starting to sweat, profusely and I was feeling winded.  Lord, have mercy…was it a heart attack?  I had to sit down! 

 

Though it was nothing as serious as that, my body was letting me know that I was out of shape!  Not badly out of shape, but just bad enough to prevent me from being effective out in the yard.  Gardening is work.  It makes no difference if you are planting flowers or vegetables’ gardening is work and you need to practice certain habits if you intend to enjoy your time out in the yard.

 

So moving very slowly, I came into the house and went straight to my computer.  Even though my fingers felt like they were rigid with arthritis, I typed in the letters g-a-r-d-e-n-i-n-g-f-i-t-n-e-s-s-p-l-a-n.  Lo and behold, a program immediately came on my screen.  So with thanks to Mr. Jeffrey Restuccio, a nationally recognized author and speaker on the subject of gardening and exercise, I will share some of his advice with you.

 To get the most benefit of gardening and exercise he recommends that you follow his Aerobic Model”:

  1. Warm up your muscles before you garden for five to ten minutes.
  2. Stretch for five to ten minutes.  Yes, stretch before you garden!  Stretching will help relieve back strain and muscle soreness and avoid injury
  3. Garden using a variety of motions at a steady pace.  Plan out your gardening exercise session to include a variety of movements such as raking, mowing, weeding, pruning and digging and alternate between them often, every fifteen minutes, for example.  Here are six different motions or techniques to rake, hoe and weed:
    • Bend one leg, one knee down to the ground, keep the other foot flat. Use a hand tool.
    • Bend both legs and kneel on a soft pad.  Use a hand tool.
    • Squat with both feet flat on the ground.  Don’t do this if you have bad knees!
    • Lunge and Weed.  Using a hand weeder, lunge with one leg bent at the knee in front of you and one leg straight back.
    • Sit and Weed.  If your knees, feet or legs won’t permit much bending then sit and garden.  Exercise your arms and waist.  Use long handled tools.
    • Stand with knees bent and your back straight and rake in a broad, sweeping motion using your legs.  While raking or hoeing, use long handled tools so you won’t have to bend over to use them. 

Don’t bend from the back as you rake or hoe.  If you make just one change, this should be it.  Bend from the knees and use your legs, shoulders and arms in a rocking motion.  Also alternate your stance between right-handed and left-handed.  Alternating stance balances the muscles used.  These techniques require time and practice but after a period of seasons, years and decades it will become a natural part of your gardening routine.

Ideally, you should stretch again after you have thoroughly warmed up your muscles with fifteen to twenty minutes of steady raking, hoeing, weeding, planting or mowing.

Cool down after your gardening exercise session by walking, picking flowers or vegetables or just enjoying the fruits of your “exercise.”

 

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