Growing Things: Growing muscles along with your veggies

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We spend a lot of time talking about the various benefits of gardening. Some include enjoying the benefits of growing your own food, growing plants for their beauty, taking time to “smell the roses,” or how plants can enhance the look of your home and garden. What many of us don’t realize is that gardening is an excellent form of exercise.

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According to the Centers for Disease Control, gardening is “compared to moderate cardiovascular exercise.” According to Harvard Medical School, the average person gardening can burn 163 calories in 30 minutes. If you use a push lawn mower, you can burn 198 calories.

The great thing about gardening is that you don’t have to book time to garden like you do to go to the gym. The garden is there whenever you are ready to exercise. When I spoke to my editor Jenny Feniak the other day, she told me that one of her favorite things to do is gardening at night. She loves to make the most of our long summer days – we’re talking 11pm. She finds this part of the day quiet and almost meditative while she works. A few years ago I wrote a column about designing an evening garden with flowers that look best at dusk. Look forward to more on this in next week’s Moon Gardens column.

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We need to approach gardening the same way we approach other forms of exercise. Many of us can’t wait for the first warm days of spring, and when they finally arrive, we storm into the garden and spend countless hours flexing muscles we haven’t used for months during the winter. Then we wake up the next morning and can’t understand why we feel like we ran a marathon the day before. The key to successful and enjoyable gardening is to stretch before each gardening session. Treat it like a workout and remember to warm up.

I’ve included links to a few videos with this column online in the Life section of that have some specific exercises and tips to help you prepare for your gardening sessions.

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While gardening gets a little more demanding as we age, it becomes even more important to our physical well-being. Exercise of any kind is key to helping older joints, and gardening can be that form of therapy. It can be as difficult or as mild as we want it to be. The beauty of gardening as a form of exercise is the opportunity to customize the work to suit our style and needs.

The other adaptable aspect of gardening is the garden itself. If you find it difficult to get on your knees or bend over, raised beds can be the solution. A raised bed of the right height makes it easy to garden standing up. The same approach applies to heavy gardening. If so, don’t be afraid to recruit or hire help.

I remember the late Jim Wilson, co-host of The Victory Garden television show, saying, “Slow, steady, sure, and thoughtful…not a bad approach to any task, especially gardening.” Truer words were never said and they apply not only to older gardeners, but also to young ones. Wilson also said, “I want to convince clean gardeners that it’s okay to slow down, stop cutting shrubs into little green meatballs, rely more on mulching and less on weeding.” Ecologically, it’s the right thing to do, as well as the right thing for your physical well-being.

So put down the TV remote control or your smartphone and go out into the garden. Do your work, but always remember to sit down after work and take in the beauty of what you have created.

Find out more by emailing your questions to, reading previous columns, or reading my book Just Ask Jerry. You can also follow me on Twitter @justaskjerry01.

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