Cultivating your mind-body connection in the garden

I love green and growing things. Gardening is an excellent way to get active. You probably know by now that I focus on functional fitness, meaning fitness that’s grounded in balanced, natural movement, that helps you stay injury-free and fit for daily life. Gardening is a great way to reinforce and enjoy the benefits of functional fitness.

You can get good cardio from raking and mowing, digging and weeding are great resistance exercises, and just walking around on the natural surface of the garden promotes balance and stability. Gardening burns a fair amount of calories, too. A 175 lb. person burns over 200 calories per hour while gardening.

Here are some tips to make the most of your time out in the garden:

-Warm up and stretch before gardening. Walk around for a few minutes and do some light stretches before gardening. Not only will this reduce your risk of injury while gardening, it also makes gardening more effective as a fitness-promoting exercise.
-Don’t do any one activity for too long. Alternate different tasks every fifteen or twenty minutes to prevent repetitive strain injury and to keep different muscle groups warm.
-Don’t try to do all the hard work in one marathon session. Doing so is a surefire way to get aches and pains.
-Use ergonomic tools. Good, comfortable gardening tools help keep you from injuring yourself through repetitive motion, and you’re also less likely to cut yourself or strain muscles when you have enough leverage and a good grip on your gear.
-Lift with your knees, not your back! Enough said.
-Alternate sides while you’re working. Switch your grip from hand to hand while raking, digging, or hoeing. This will promote muscle balance and coordination.
-Protect yourself from sun and strain. Wear sunscreen, a hat, and sunglasses. Drink lots of water. Wear good work gloves. Try not to garden in the middle of the day when the sun is hottest.
-Avoid twisting while you lift or reach. Twisting the body while lifting or reaching is one of the most common ways people injure themselves, and it’s also one of the most preventable. Stay mindful of what you’re doing and where you are.

Speaking of mindfulness, the benefits of getting outside go beyond physical fitness. It’s been shown that getting out into the natural environment reduces anxiety and increases creativity. Here’s a meditation you can do to get in that zone:

Sit on a chair or bench in good posture. Place your feet flat on the ground and your hands on your lap. Inhale through your nose as you count up to four. Pause at the top of your breath and slowly exhale through your mouth as you count down from four. Repeat, each time adding a count until you reach a count of eight. This will help relax your mind and body and make an excellent pre- or post-gardening ritual.

So get outside, enjoy the weather, and get active! Just take it easy, drink plenty of water, and make sure to smell the roses.

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