Although many of us live relatively sedentary lifestyles, the human body is built for constant motion. As the seasons change and the weather becomes colder, even more time is spent sitting inside. In his recent book, "Deskbound: Standing up to a Sitting World," New York Times best-selling author, CrossFit coach and physical therapist Dr. Kelly Starrett discusses how learning to adapt standard work and home schedules to include frequent exercise is highly important for resetting posture, maintaining cardiovascular health and reducing the effects of sitting. Daily lawn maintenance chores are one of the best ways to achieve this. This fall, trim your trees, fertilize your lawn or rake your leaves instead of hiring a professional. The more opportunities you can take to get outside and use your body, the more health benefits you will receive.
In an article published on the Livestrong website, health journalist and gardening specialist Joshua Duvauchelle compares the amount of energy we expend doing various lawn-care activities, such as using push mowers (engine-powered rolling mowers) and hand mowers (the traditional lawn tool that requires physical pushing effort to spin blades that cut the grass). Unsurprisingly, the award for most effective exercise goes to hand mowers. While push mowers do require ample walking, a 155-pound person will only burn 167 calories for a 30-minute session, with more or less energy required based on body weight. Hand mowers offer a more challenging cardio workout. The typical 135-pound person will burn approximately 193 calories for the same time invested. Additionally, hand mowers only cut the grass, so the 30 additional minutes of raking cut grass afterward will burn additional calories. In all, this can be the equivalent of a brisk 3.5 mph walk or water aerobics class.
Beyond the sheer caloric burn, there are other health benefits to maintaining your own lawn. In a landmark study by researcher Elin Ekblom-bak and others published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, researchers in Sweden measured the health of 4,232 60-year-olds over the course of 12 1/2 years and found that those who had lived active lifestyles by walking and doing their own household chores since age 60 had a 27 percent lower risk of heart attack and stroke, a smaller waistline, better HDL levels (good cholesterol) and lower risk factors for heart disease. "Promoting daily life activities is as important as recommending regular exercise for older adults for cardiovascular health and longevity," Ekblom-Bak explained in one Newsday article. "This is particularly important for older adults as they tend to spend a greater portion of their active day performing non-exercise physical activity, as they often find it difficult to achieve recommended exercise intensity levels."
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that getting in 2 1/2 hours of moderate-intensity level activities per week is important for protecting adults from depression, diabetes and cancer. To help you attain this weekly goal, you might consider contacting your local parks and recreation center to see whether there are any community gardens, parks or botanical gardens that need work. This is a great way to engage with neighbors and keep your community vibrant as well.
As with any exercise, there are some important yard work safety considerations. First, form matters. An article published on the AARP website in 2010 cites Barbara Ainsworth, an exercise epidemiologist at San Diego State University. As a moderate level of physical activity, she says, yard work helps build strength in your core, upper body and back because these areas are working to stabilize your body. Follow these important safety tips:
--Warm up and start slow before you begin hauling. Try walking around the block and doing gentle stretches.
--Stand with a wide stance for better balance and stability.
--Use your full body, and twist with your torso and legs.
--When raking, pruning or sweeping, switch sides to balance the strain on your back and arms.
--When you are finished, take ample time to cool down and stretch to avoid soreness.
Fall is a wonderful time of year. This year, get outside in the crisp air to beautify your lawn and better your health.