For many of us, the thought of having to hit the gym every day is both daunting and a chore, but we gardeners don’t mind spending a day or an hour in the garden.
Exercise is good for us, both aerobic and anaerobic.
Now we could all start the day in our leggings and ankle braces (gotta show my age) outdoors and doing star jumps, running in place, lunges or ‘BBC Strictly Fitness’, but gardening can burn a large number of calories.
Research tells us that being outdoors has a positive effect on our mental, spiritual and physical health and well-being.
Gardening has therefore been shown to lower our blood pressure, improve our mood, decrease our anxiety and stimulate our neurons.
The term biophilia refers to our innate need for greenery and being outdoors. We are outdoor creatures by nature, who over thousands of years have succumbed to the warmth and safety of great indoors.
We’ve ditched the spear for a knife and fork and an open fire for central heating, but as living organisms we need to exercise.
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Gardening is good exercise. Cognitively, from the earliest stages of searching through catalogs or the Internet to find out what new plants to grow or what seeds to sow, we stimulate our brains.
In fact, research has shown that after just two gardening sessions, there is a noticeable therapeutic improvement in our mood.
Gardening can help keep our minds clear and sharp, and again, research has shown that gardening can significantly reduce the risk of dementia.
Gardening promotes problem solving, learning and sensory awareness. Many people notice improved focus, faster recovery from mental fatigue as well as a stronger brain and a sense of connection to memories.
In gardening, from amateur to professional, we are constantly learning new processes, plants and techniques.
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Watching a garden, pot or border grow is a magical process and studies have shown that looking at greenery, a pot full of plants and gardens can improve concentration and later tasks.
In addition, nature improves cognitive abilities in a short time, so mental “add-ons” are provided.
What you see, hear, experience at all times changes not only your mood, but also the functioning of your nervous, endocrine and immune systems.
When using an fMRI, parts of the brain associated with empathy and love light up when nature scenes are viewed. Nature inspires feelings that connect us to each other and to our immediate and larger environments.
Without having to look at a clock or count the minutes until you’re done, you can easily spend an hour or an entire day working out without feeling like you’re putting yourself through a grueling workout. Ideally, you should garden for 30 minutes to provide a beneficial workout.
I would always recommend that before venturing outdoors, you do some gentle stretching exercises to prevent injury and improve performance.
Your muscles may be tense, so it is essential to stretch for 15 minutes before any physical activity. This will also provide a cardio warm up and remember to always wear sunscreen.
When you’re outdoors, work at a steady pace to keep your heart rate up for 30 minutes, like digging and turning compost, then move on to a less strenuous activity like pruning.
The important thing to remember is to swap hands whenever possible and alternate legs, whether bending, stretching, stepping, or pushing from a kneeling position.
Think about your posture and use repetitive techniques rather than erratic movements.
Keep your back straight, knees widely bent and shoulders down – this will reduce stress on your lower back and muscles and help avoid aches and pains.
In no time, your body will be more toned, more flexible with improved strength and endurance.
A little trick is to set a timer on your cell phone or bring an hourglass and set it for 30 minutes. It is important to follow your pace and your activities. You will find that you will get more done in a given time if you pace yourself correctly.
No matter your age or ability level, gardening is something almost anyone can do, and why not? It is good for our cognitive, spiritual and physical well-being.