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Posted on Sun. Jan. 20, 2013 - 12:01 am EDT

Sow plants and reap fitness

Tailor garden to exercise needs

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Gardens can be great training grounds for fitness buffs.

Add trails for jogging. Build benches for workouts. Use trees and fence posts for stretching. Lose calories by squatting or lifting while weeding, planting, hauling and digging.

You can personalize your garden to fit your energy level. Equipment such as exercise beams and conditioning ladders are inexpensive and simple to make, while portable gear like weighted rollers, jump-ropes, dumbbells and Swiss balls can be eased into the routines.

“If you have children’s play equipment, it is easy to add a pull-up bar or climbing frame for adults to a treehouse,” said Bunny Guinness, a landscape architect who runs a garden design business near Peterborough in central England.

Gardening in and of itself can be a formidable calorie burner, said Guinness, who with physiotherapist Jacqueline Knox wrote “Garden Your Way to Health and Fitness” (Timber Press, 2008).

Regular physical activity reduces the risk of many illnesses, and gardening can provide it, said Margaret Hagen, an educator with University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension.

“Raking is like using a rowing machine,” Hagen said. “Turning a compost pile is similar to lifting weights. Carry a gallon sprinkling can of water in each hand and you’ve got 8-pound dumbbells. Pushing a lawnmower is like walking on a treadmill, only much more interesting.”

Even more calories are burned when calisthenics are included in the mix. Add pushups, chin-ups, bridging, power lunges and dips to the workouts.

Warm up before you begin to avoid cramping and joint pain. Pace yourself. Hydrate, especially if you’re gardening out in the sun. Avoid bending by using telescoping pruners, edgers and weeders. Opt for lightweight and easy-to-grip hand tools.

Work ergonomically. Stress good posture and balance.

“As someone who has had a back issue, I do try to follow my physical therapist’s advice and be careful to kneel instead of stooping while gardening, and to lift with bent knees and a straight back,” Hagen said. “One of the things I like most about gardening is that because you stretch and move in so many directions, it works all your muscle groups, releasing tension everywhere in your body.”

Don’t forget to include mental health in your landscape design. Add tranquil herb gardens, soothing fountains and small sitting areas for meditation, relaxing and cooling off.

“Any gardener can tell you that there is nothing like spending time outdoors gardening to refresh the soul,” Hagen said. “Psychologically, I’m sure it provides the same benefits to gardeners that recent research says recess provides to schoolchildren.”

Good nutrition also is an important part of any fitness package, and few things taste better than food served fresh from the garden.

“If you can boost your health and avoid stresses and strains in the process, it becomes all the more satisfying,” Guinness said.


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