A Full Workout in the Garden
For many of us, the idea of having to go to the gym every day is both daunting and a chore, yet us gardeners don’t think twice when it comes to spending a day or just an hour in the garden. Exercise is good for us, both aerobic and anaerobic. Now, we could all start the day in our leggings and ankle warmers (I must be showing my age) in the great outdoors and do some star jumps, running on the spot and lunges, but gardening can burn a great number of calories. Research is telling us of the importance of being outside and the effect it has on our mental, spiritual and physical health and wellbeing. Gardening has therefore been shown to reduce our blood pressure, lift our mood, lessen our anxiety and spark our neurons.
The term biophilia is our innate need for greenery and for being outside. We are outdoor creatures by nature, that over thousands of years have succumbed to the warmth and safety of the great indoors. We have dropped the spear for a knife and fork and an open fire for central heating, but as living organisms we need to exercise. Now, I’m not advocating running across fields with a herd of buffalo, but I am on a mission to get us moving more, getting involved in social and community activities and just enjoying the warmth of the sun or the feeling of rain on our skin.
Gardening is good exercise. Cognitively, from the initial stages of looking through catalogues or the Internet for what new plants to grow or which seeds to sow we are stimulating our brain. In fact, research has shown that after just two gardening sessions there is a noticeably marked therapeutic improvement in our mood.
Gardening can help keep our mind clear and sharp, and again research has shown that gardening can significantly reduce the risk of dementia. Gardening promotes problem solving, learning and sensory awareness. Many people notice improved concentration, quicker recovery from mental fatigue as well as strengthening the brain and feeling connected to memories. While gardening, from amateur to professional, we are constantly learning new processes, plants and techniques.
So far, I have been writing about active gardening, but there is also passive gardening. Watching a garden, pot or border grow is still a magical process for me, but studies have shown that looking at greenery, a pot full of plants and gardens can improve focus and subsequent tasks. Also, nature improves cognitive ability in short timeframes, so mental ‘top-ups’ are provided. What you are seeing, hearing, experiencing at any moment is changing not only your mood, but how your nervous, endocrine and immune systems are working. Also, the presence of trees and green space give you a stronger feeling of unity with neighbours, being more concerned with helping each other and having stronger feelings of belonging. Parts of the brain, when using a fMRI, associated with empathy and love light up when nature scenes are viewed. Nature inspires feelings that connect us to each other and our immediate and larger environments.
Without having to watch a clock or count down the minutes until you are done, you can easily spend an hour or an entire day working out without feeling as though you are putting yourself through a gruelling workout. Ideally you need to garden for 30 minutes to provide a beneficial workout. If you weigh 11 stone you can burn 347 calories in an hour gardening, and at 14 stone 437 calories. I would always recommend that before venturing outside you undertake some gentle stretching exercises to prevent injury and to improve performance. Your muscles might be tight so it is essential to stretch for 15 minutes before any physical activity. This will also provide a cardio warm-up.
When outside, work at a constant steady speed to keep the heart rate up for the 30 minutes, such as digging and turning compost, and then swap to a less strenuous activity such as pruning. The important thing to remember is to swap hands whenever possible and alternate legs, whether leaning, stretching, walking or pushing up from a kneeled position. Think about your posture and use repetitive techniques rather than erratic movements. Keep your back straight, knees bent largely and your shoulders down – these will reduce stress on your lower back and muscles and help avoid aches and pains. In no time at all your body will be more toned, more flexible with improved strength and endurance. A little tip is to set a timer on your mobile phone or carry an egg timer and set it to 30 minutes. Pacing yourself and your activities is important. You will find that you will get more done in an allotted time if you pace properly.
It doesn’t matter what age you are, or what level of ability you have, gardening is an activity that almost anybody can do, and why not? It is good for our cognitive, spiritual and physical wellbeing.
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC1KDzNnGJmrPGcE9pPhNtYg (my YouTube channel with hints and tips)
https://www.carryongardening.org.uk/ Thrive Charity