Try keeping fit by getting down and dirty

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Fit for Life by Jeanine Achin

Fit for Life
by Jeanine Achin

Sometimes a favorite theme just has to be repeated. Several years ago I wrote about how healthy gardening is, and I feel this is a good time to revisit the topic.

Fresh produce is only one benefit you receive from gardening. Gardening is also a form of exercise. Like other forms of exercise, gardening can help lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels and keep away problems with heart disease, diabetes and other ailments related to inactivity and excess weight.

The National Institute of Health recommends gardening three to five times a week for 35 to 45 minutes as a way to help reduce obesity. Gardening can be a great workout; it can provide you with strength, endurance and flexibility as long as you approach it with purpose. Regular garden chores can burn anywhere from 120 to 200 calories per half hour, but caution is advised if all you know about gardening is being a couch potato. Gardening chores are seasonal and can lead to injury if your body is not properly prepared for outdoor activities.

Here are some pointers to get the most out of your garden and gain health benefits while you are at it:

• Start small, using potted plants or a small raised bed measuring 4-by-6 feet and plant tomatoes, herbs or flowers.

• Garden in the cooler morning air. Make it a habit to get out there before it gets too humid and hot.

• Warm up first with some walking and then stretching so you can dig deeper and reach farther.

• Vary your activities, plant for a bit, weed for a bit then take a break and walk around your plot to enjoy the view. It’s a great idea to switch hands. Try to seniors gardeningevenly work with your right and left hands. For example, pull 10 weeds with your right hand and then 10 weeds your left hand.

• Think safety. Wear sun screen, don a hat and bring some water to sip. Even in the early morning weather, you can still get burned and dehydrated.

• Keep your ambition in check. If you have been sedentary, then start with 10-minute intervals and build up to 30 to 60 minutes of work.

If you are thinking it is too late to start a garden, no worries; your local farm store or outdoor center still has supplies and plants started for you. Gardening has always been a form of therapy for me and a connection to my past as both sets of my grandparents had small farms. Think about sharing your talent with your grandchildren, and you will be helping them be healthier for life as well.

Jeanine Achin is a district executive director for the YMCA of Greater Providence. Contact her at (401) 521-0155, extension 109, or

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