Getting your yard in shape can get your body in shape, too. Just 30 to 45 minutes of gardening can burn 150 calories, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "You can transform gardening into something that won't just make you sore but will [instead] make you fit in a comprehensive way," says Jeffrey Restuccio, author of Get Fit Through Gardening. Change your approach to gardening with these tips and you'll reap the fitness benefits.
Treat it like a workout
Before you grab your rake, warm up with a walk around the yard and some gentle stretches. Start your work with smaller tasks like pruning, weeding and planting small plants before you move on to more intense tasks like digging, moving mulch or mowing. Take plenty of short breaks to drink water and give your body a reprieve.
Use your legs and core instead of arms and shoulders
The basic motions of exercise apply to gardening, too. "Pushing, pulling, lunging, rotating, and squatting—all activities in the garden involve various iterations or combinations of those," says Anthony Wall, spokesman for the American Council on Exercise. Instead of relying on your arms for most of your power, though, use your legs and core, says Restuccio. Your legs, abs, chest and lower back can provide more power than your arms. Plus, you'll avoid a sore neck and sore shoulders the next day. Try getting into crouching or slight squatting position, keeping your back straight, and rocking back and forth to move your rake, hoe or shovel, says Restuccio. If you're bending over to pull weeds, try lunging or kneeling on one knee instead. If you need to sit down to garden, bend at the waist to avoid hunching over.
Change it up
When you're doing a specific task, try to change your stance or position every few minutes so you don't put repetitive stress on particular muscles or joints. Change up which knee you kneel on, which leg you lunge on and even which arm or hand you use. This will distribute the work across more parts of your body.
Arm yourself with the right tools
Tools with long handles are best for your body, Restuccio says. "A handheld trowel is not a particularly good tool because you're stabbing at the ground," Restuccio says, but a five- to six-foot handle lets you use your legs and core to pull the tool across your body. Try transforming handheld tools into longer ones with PVC pipes.
Protect yourself from heat, sun, and bugs. Sip water when you take breaks to avoid heat stroke or becoming dehydrated. Wear sunscreen and bug spray. Long sleeves and pants, gloves, and a wide-brimmed hat are also good for shielding you.