How to Be a Fit Gardener

Understand Your Body's Needs

Good news, gardeners! Gardening is an extremely easy and fun way to burn off all those unwanted calories. By weeding and digging in the dirt, a 140-lb. person will burn 300 calories per hour, but you need to make sure you take the measures needed to prevent soreness and injury. David H. Baras, M.D., of the Department of Family Medicine at the University of South Florida School of Medicine, gives advice on how to prevent and alleviate soreness so you can be a fit gardener.

Understand Your Body's Needs

Gardening is a favorite physical activity for many, but there are some precautions you must take. Because you may not feel like you’re exerting yourself, you may not drink enough fluids and get dehydrated quickly. Dr. Baras recommends that you drink water or some type of unsweetened fruit juice. “Have 8 ounces every 30-45 minutes to prevent dehydration, which sneaks up on you,” says Dr. Baras. And skip the coffee — the caffeine will further dehydrate you.

It’s also important to know your own limits. Before starting any activity, you should be aware of your body’s restrictions. Although soreness may not begin until after you’ve completed your activity, Dr. Baras says you can judge your limitations by looking to activities you’ve recently completed. “Think of any particular activity you’ve done prior to gardening that required a lot of body movement,” he said. Examples would be vacuuming, window cleaning and walking. “I’ve had patients tell me that they feel sore the next day. If you felt sore from one activity, you can learn to set limits for the next one,” adds Dr. Baras.

Prevent Soreness

No matter what type of physical condition you’re in, there is always a risk of soreness if you continue any activity for a long period of time. Dr. Baras recommends that if you’re new to gardening, then you should limit your time spent digging in the dirt.

He suggests using what he calls a “posture clock” — where you change your position every 30-45 minutes. This “clock” will help you realize when it is time to move so that you don’t remain in one position for too long. Staying in one position for a long period of time will cause muscle fatigue, resulting in pain, says Dr. Baras.

Your posture is extremely important in reducing lower back pain. Dr. Baras recommends using a bench or even a chair. Some gardening stores sell benches specifically for this purpose, allowing you to comfortably sit instead of kneel.

He also advises that you take into account your current level of fitness and any medical problems that may limit your physical endurance. If you haven’t gardened in a while, then you need to give yourself more time to complete the task by doing it in intervals. But even experienced gardeners need posture clocks since they don’t think about their positions constantly and are used to the activity, Dr. Baras added.

He also advises that you take into account your current level of fitness and any medical problems that may limit your physical endurance. If you haven’t gardened in a while, then you need to give yourself more time to complete the task by doing it in intervals. But even experienced gardeners need posture clocks since they don’t think about their positions constantly and are used to the activity, Dr. Baras added.

Make the Right Move

Dr. Baras stresses the importance of stretching to prevent soreness. But make sure to warm up first by taking a 5- to 10-minute walk. To stretch your legs, sit with legs stretched out forward and lean forward with your arms extended towards the toes. Hold this position for 15-20 seconds. Then walk your hands toward the left for 15-20 seconds and repeat on the right side. In order to stretch the shoulder girdle, bring right arm and hand behind head. Grab your right elbow with your left hand and gently pull down. Hold this position for 20 seconds and repeat on the opposite side. All exercises should be repeated about 10 times to make sure that you are ready to garden according to Dr. Baras. When lifting plants bring the item close to your body and make sure that the pot or plant isn’t already too heavy. When lifting, use your leg muscles and maintain your spine in a straight up and down position.