Have you seen all the fitness wristbands on the market? It seems like they can measure nearly anything! Of course you have to be doing something to measure in the first place.
We are told that sitting is the new smoking, and if we work behind a desk at all we’ve got to get up and move frequently. The goal is to walk 10,000 steps in a day or get the equivalent amount of exercise. Sure, it sounds easy but it means you need to get in a minimum of five miles of walking per day. If you walk at a brisk pace this can be an hour and 15 minutes or more.
I have a better idea for you, courtesy of Dr. Nature. Try gardening! June 6 is National Gardening Exercise Day. Yes, there’s such a thing. So why not celebrate by getting a little dirty?
Sixty minutes of steady gardening work involving activities like weeding, digging, mulching, carrying materials, and so on gives you the equivalent of walking five miles – there is your 10,000 steps in a day.
Everyday gardening will burn 300 calories per hour, the same as walking, golfing, or other low-impact exercises. If you get into heavy yard work, you can double the calorie burn which is as good as running, cycling, or strenuous internal training.
According to the American Horticultural Therapy Association, gardening is an ideal form of exercise because it combines three types of fitness: Strength, endurance, and flexibility. Bending and stretching to pull weeds or reaching up high (safely!) provides your flexibility. It takes strength to dig or carry gardening materials. Anyone who’s spent a day working in their yard knows it takes a surprising amount of endurance.
As I’ve written many times, spending time outside in nature reduces stress and improves your mental health. Exposure to sunshine (safely with sunscreen!) helps regulate your mood and provides vitamin D. Instead of running on the road to nowhere on a treadmill instead, you might have beautiful flowers or a nice harvest from your vegetable garden. Believe it or not, even if you don’t grow anything edible, AHTA students show gardeners eat a wider variety of healthy vegetables and eat more veggies overall than non-gardeners.
Another benefit of gardening comes from the opportunity to focus on a task and enjoy the effortless ability to engage our attention. Researchers at the Landscape and Human Health Lab at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have studied the human capacity for “directed attention,” which is what happens when we use smartphones, email, and other electronics. When we run short of this kind of attention, we get cranky and stressed out, and our thinking processes slow down. When we enjoy activities in a natural environment, like gardening or nature walks, the repetitive soothing nature of these tasks helps us develop “effortless attention,” which replenishes our brain’s energy.
Want to give it a try? First of all, no cheating by using a leaf blower or gas powered trimmers and lawn mowers. Pick up a broom or manual clippers if possible. Instead of doing all your gardening in marathon sessions every other weekend, try to get outside 30 to 60 minutes three times a week. With more hours of sunshine after work, this is something you can do. Early mornings are also ideal gardening times.
Work steadily, but don’t get so focused you end up standing in one position too long. If you’re weeding a flower bed and bending over, switch to another activity every 10 minutes. Try to use both your right and left hands equally.
So you don’t own a yard? Even a balcony or a patio can provide space to grow veggies like tomatoes or herbs. You may need to add a little to your workout with a walk through the park. If you have indoor house plants – step up the pace and care for them vigorously!
Or join a community garden. The San Diego Community Garden Network is on a mission to help create, support, and grow community gardens. It can direct you to a garden in your area, or help you start one.
One of the great advantages of gardening for exercise is that it’s so fun and rewarding, it doesn’t seem like exercise. People who start gardening are more likely to stick with it and do it often. And you get something out of it beyond just improved physical and mental health. You beautify your surroundings and you can enjoy the flowers, fruits and vegetables you grow.
If you’ve got kids who are about to finish their school year, why not get them involved in a gardening project this summer? They can develop healthy habits and skills that will last a lifetime. So put down those smartphones, get outside, pick up a shovel and get dirty!