Raking In The Effects of Gardening

Yard work can be a more enjoyable form of exercise.

By Nicole Johnson, MA, MPH

Don’t you just love this time of year? I am so fascinated by the natural process of birth and growth in our environment. Every year I long for this magical time of planting, tending, and grooming the ground. Did you know that gardening and diabetes are a perfect match? Not only is the vitamin D from the sun good for our moods, but the bending, prodding, and raking are good for our bodies and our diabetes.

We all know about the recent studies that show exercise and diet can dramatically reduce the development of type 2 diabetes in those at risk for the disease. It is really common sense; eat less, move more. But what about people who already have diabetes? For those, science has proven that 30 minutes of activity, 5 days a week can dramatically reduce the risk of complications associated with the condition. (Heart disease, stroke, kidney failure, blindness, etc.)

Think about it, why is jumping around in an aerobic class or running on a treadmill for thirty minutes considered exercise, yet digging a hole for planting trees or shrubbery is deemed work? To me, it all boils down to attitude. I propose that we change the way we think about "yard work." This season, consider combining the tasks of exercise and gardening. Gardening or yard work can be thought of as aerobic exercise. Of course, the intensity is all up to you.

Research shows that gardening is an ideal form of exercise because it includes so many of the basic merits of physical conditioning. It is moderate and sometimes, strenuous -- good for your heart and the boredom that often creeps in with exercise on a treadmill. It also incorporates many important elements of recommended exercise programs including stretching, stance, and repetition. We shouldn’t forget that it also employs resistance principles similar to weight training. Who knew there was so much personal benefit to pulling weeds, digging, raking, and of course spreading fertilizer and compost! Regular garden chores can burn anywhere from 100 to 250 calories each half hour.

To get started, we must review the basics.

With any exercise program it is important to warm up. Your best bet is to start by stretching your arms and legs for five minutes. Here are some ideas:

  • toe touches
  • arm circles
  • shoulder raises

Since gardening is exercise, we also need to take diabetes precautions. First, consult your health care team before beginning any form of exercise or strenuous activity. Second, always test your glucose before starting any activity. Especially when outside, make sure to drink lots of water and to have an emergency snack with you to treat potential lows. It is important to constantly assess your body’s reaction to the exercise. When gardening, it is tempting to get engrossed in the project, and to lose tract of time and circumstances. (I am guilty of this one!) It is so important to keep track of time and diabetes needs.

 Here are a few more recommendations for “yard exercise”

  • Protect yourself from the sun. (sunscreen, sunglasses, hat)
  • Know your equipment and follow recommended safety procedures.
  • Protect you hands and feet. (Wear closed toe shoes and sturdy gloves.)
  • Protect yourself from biting insects by wearing bug repellent. Bites can take longer to heal on people with diabetes.
  • Consider wearing a waist pack with glucose tablets and your meter inside.
  • Don't forget why you garden – take time to smell the roses, listen to the birds, and feel the warmth of the sun.

Calories Burned While You Garden

We promised you this list, so here goes. These are for 30-minute time frames for a 180-pound man. If you weight less, you’ll burn fewer calories.

Sitting quietly – 40
Watering a lawn or garden – 61
Riding mower – 101
Trimming shrubs – 142
Raking – 162
Bagging leaves – 162
Planting seedlings – 162
Mowing with gas mower – 182
Weeding – 182
Gardening with heavy power tools – 243
Mowing lawn with a push mower – 243

Nicole Johnson

Read Nicole's bio here.

Read more of Nicole Johnson's columns.

NOTE: The information is not intended to be a replacement or substitute for consultation with a qualified medical professional or for professional medical advice related to diabetes or another medical condition. Please contact your physician or medical professional with any questions and concerns about your medical condition.

Last Modified Date: November 28, 2012

All content on dLife.com is created and reviewed in compliance with our editorial policy.

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