Get Fit Through Gardening - February 2006

Let's talk about what it really takes to be fit. I mean, if you are ten, twenty,  thirty or more pounds overweight and you really want to improve your level of overall fitness and look better.

Question: Can you just garden and really improve your health?

 I hear this question all the time. Let's briefly look at what it takes to make a significant change in your appearance (and health).

1) Reduce your intake of fat, sugar and starchy foods.
2) Eat six small meals each day instead of three big meals.
3) Drink at least eight glasses of water per day.
4) Exercise aerobically for at least 20 minutes, three times per week.
5) Work out with weights (resistance training)  at least three days a week.
6) Keep a journal and measure everything - what you eat, your physical measurements, your exercise program, intensity, etc...
7) Set specific goals and time limits (I will lose two inches on my waist by June 6.)
8) Use Get Fit Through Gardening as a fun way to burn calories
9) If you want to increase your muscle size or strength, I recommend taking supplements such as creatine.
10) Don't believe advertising that promises fast, impressive weight loss without exercise, dieting or a sustained effort. Improving your health and losing weight takes commitment and (as much as I hate to use the word) hard work.

Ways to quantify Get Fit Through Gardening

Keep an exercise / gardening journal In addition to the usual gardening entries, keep a journal of your garden exercises.
Use visual queues to remind yourself to change stance (right to left) or position (switch from standing and weeding to kneeling and weeding) Use orange markers. Put up index cards on your bathroom mirror. Tie a rubber band around your finger. Write down your plan before you garden.
Buy a heart rate monitor Calculate your optimal exercise rate. Subtract your age from 220, then  aim for 50 to 80% of that value for your  target rate. (For example for a 44 year old male, the target heart rate is 141 beats per second).
Garden in terms of repetitions and sets At first you may need to count our ten to twenty repetitions as you rake or hoe. Rake, hoe or dig intensely for a minute or so then rest for 20 - 30 seconds. Then start again. The key is increasing the intensity, and "working out" in the garden for shorter periods of time with greater variety of motions.
Adopt the aerobic model for gardening See my In a Nutshell article
Add exercises to your gardening workout In my book, Fitness the Dynamic Gardening Way I recommend adding exercises for your stomach (situps), biceps (chin-ups) and chest (push-ups or dip bar). I have a dip bar and a pullup bar in my backyard, so I add traditional exercise to my Get Fit Through Gardening workout.
Write out your garden exercises beforehand Example: Warm up by walking briskly around the garden or raking. Stretch for 5 to 10 minutes. Dig holes for trees, bushes or plants for 10 to 15 minutes. Cultivate your garden beds, with a long-handled tool for 10 to 15 minutes. For the "advanced" aerobic gardener, double-dig a bed for 5 - 10 minutes, resting every 2-3 minutes. cool down by pruning bushes, light weeding, stretch again, take a shower. Enjoy your garden.
Garden more intensely, but for shorter periods of time. You can always alternate Get Fit Through Gardening sessions with traditional gardening sessions. For example, Get Fit Through Gardening on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays. Traditional planting on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. You don't always have to go for the burn. Do what makes sense to you.
Understand that virtually no one gardens this way! Start a Get Fit Through Gardening club, teach a class, include your children, show your parents.
Understand that all this will take a conscious effort on your part at first. With practice it will improve. After practice over many seasons, years and decades, "muscle memory" will set in and you will automatically adopt these concepts without thinking. Stay with it and you will reap many rewards.

For more information, my book, Fitness the Dynamic Gardening Way, is available!

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