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Dig into a healthy activity

April's showers certainly have brought some beautiful May flowers. This spring's physical activity can be done right in your own back yard (and front yard, too!). Working in the garden has some great health benefits; it is good for the body, mind and soul. Gardening can help reduce stress and enhance your health. And digging holes, hauling mulch, pushing a wheelbarrow and raking the lawn all burn significant amounts of calories.

According to goforgreen.com, the energy burned digging is four times greater than walking. Digging requires lifting a load, strengthening the upper body, tightening the abdominals, and strengthening the legs. Gardening involves bending, lifting, and stretching, working all kinds of muscles and muscle groups.

To prepare yourself, as you would with any form of exercise, you should try to maintain a good fitness level all year round. Strength training and cardiovascular exercise will help to make wielding the shovel and trowel easier. Exercise programs such as Pilates and Yoga, for example, work the muscles that are needed for successful, injury-free gardening.

Gardening tends to involve repetitive motions, so it's important to increase strength and endurance of the muscles being used. Before heading out for the day, it's a good idea to warm up the same way you would for any exercise. Some ways to warm up include going for a walk or riding your bike around the block before you get started. Or you can march in place, or use the first 20 minutes in the garden to ease into the activity. Limber up by doing a few light stretches of the muscles about to be used: thighs (quadriceps, hamstrings), arms (biceps, triceps), shoulders (deltoids) and back (latissimus dorsi, trapezius).

Some safety tips for gardening include maintaining proper body alignment and posture, protecting your lower back by lifting loads using your legs, and trying not to twist when digging or lifting. It's important not to overdo it, especially on the first few times out. Allow yourself plenty of breaks, drink lots of water, and mind the sun.

After you've put away your gardening equipment and cleaned up the yard, it's important to give your muscles a good stretch (at least 15 seconds each). Stretching helps to keep your muscles from stiffening up. Having loose muscles leads to better flexibility and the ability to bend, ensuring you will be ready to pull those darn weeds again the next time.

Not only does gardening offer many physical benefits, it can help relax the mind and relieve stress and tension. Most physical activities will help you reduce stress, but the soothing nature of the garden is especially helpful.

For a great exercise that benefits you in so many ways, pick up your watering can and head outdoors.

Dale Rowe is Manager of Adult Services at the Flamborough Family YMCA. She can be reached at 905-690-3555, ext. 7012 or at dale_rowe@ymca.ca

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