Let’s just start with the obvious: exercise is good for you. Even without the scare statistics we all know getting out and doing something is better than sitting around eating crisps and gummy bears.
“Gym memberships are expensive” is the UK’s favourite excuse for not exercising. But that starts to look a bit thin when you probe deeper and find, most people are prepared to pay for a gym membership but think it’s a waste of money because they don’t go. Work and life getting in the way is the top reason given for lapsing, but closer examination reveals plenty of us, just don’t like gyms. The equipment’s complex bordering on incomprehensible. Unless you hire a trainer for a few sessions you’ll be clueless and quite probably, humiliated. Gyms are filled with an overpowering scent of unhealthy competition. And, if you thought the membership was expensive, check out the price of holding your own as far as workout gear goes. Taking up running is a great and inexpensive way to exercise, but it’s tricky from scratch too and could give you more problems than it solves if you’re even slightly unfit.
So where does an ordinary human with an ordinary body and a little bit of ambition start, without heading straight for the mean-world of gyms or pounding pavements in earnest?
Open the door, step outside, stretch, breathe and garden. It’s easy, accessible, rewarding, doesn’t involve Lycra or super-cushy rides. And it’s surprisingly intense and effective, if you know how to work it.
Always begin with a five-minute warm up
To get the most out of gardening, you need to make an effort and when you’re unprepared that way lies pulled muscles and real tears. This easy cardio warm-up takes five minutes. If you have a kitchen or living room with bi-fold patio doors, you can do your routine inside, looking out, in winter - before you put on your cold weather gear. It’s also a plan to leave trainers next to your wellies so you don’t forget to warm-up.
An hour of 10-minute tasks is a complete workout
The trick to getting the most out of a garden workout is mixing up the activities in 10-minute bursts. Moving heavy plant pots, lifting sacks and turning compost, striding with the wheelbarrow, raking leaves vigorously, cutting the grass, ground clearing, weeding, they all combine cardio, strength, endurance and flexibility. Work more bending and stretching into the garden than you do normally and you’ll feel muscles you didn’t know existed coming into play. And don’t forget to breathe, evenly and deeply – be conscious of your breathing at first and it will become second nature in no time.
Make every move count as much as possible
Put effort into everything from planting to pruning and you’ll really burn calories (an hour of gardening is the equivalent of a 20-minute run). If you’re digging, hold the spade handle at either end and lift it above your head at full arm length before you start. Hold for the count of 10 and feel the stretch in your spine, back and legs. Over-exaggerate the sweeping motion raking leaves, it’s great for your upper arms and waist. Squat to weed and work your thighs. Lunge into ground clearance and compost turning. Use long-handled pruners, held firmly above your head for short bursts - another one to tone upper arms.
5 tips to avoiding stress in your garden workout
It’s no coincidence that, come spring, surgeries are full of sad-faced gardeners with minor injuries. Gardening is hard work so take a few easy steps to avoiding unnecessary pain.
1. Always warm-up and cool-down as part of your routine.
2. Use alternate hands to work with tools and avoid gripping strain.
3. Lift with your thighs, keep your back straight and try not to twist at the waist. Bend from your hips not your waist when you’re standing.
4. Remember to download a fantastic playlist, rehydrate every 20 minutes and spare a moment now and then to just to enjoy being outside.
5. Use tools you’re comfortable with and don’t make the mistake of thinking the extra effort of blunt blades and rusty equipment is adding to your workout. It’s not, it’s just frustrating and demoralising.
Give yourself a rewarding space to relax and enjoy the view
You probably don’t have a juice bar or steam room to wind down in. But, if the weather’s nice, turn your patio into a chill-zone: open the patio doors, have a favourite drink ready in the fridge and a sweet lounger to lie on. Then just kick off your boots, relax and admire your gorgeous garden – you won’t get that feel-good factor at the gym.