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Rhonda J. Ferree

Rhonda J. Ferree
Former Extension Educator, Horticulture

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Rhonda Ferree's ILRiverHort

Rhonda Ferree's Horticulture Blog

Gardening to lose weight

Our New Year's determination and resolutions to eat better, lose weight, and exercise more have gone by the wayside, said a University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator.

"Being cooped up indoors doesn't help either," added Martha Smith. "We look out the window at our sleeping gardens, planning for the coming season as we munch on carb after sugary carb."

But there is hope. There is an activity that can provide exercise and cardio training and improve our flexibility. It builds muscle and helps prevent osteoporosis. It also helps relieve stress and provides our families with nutritious fresh food. All of this without leaving home and fighting for the stairmaster at a crowded gym.

"Spring has arrived, days are getting longer, and gardening season is just around the corner. Gardening helps the pounds and inches melt away," Smith said. "Even better, we don't regard this as exercise because we have so much fun doing it. A quote from a fellow gardener says it all: 'Gardening is a labor of love. A treadmill is just labor.' "

We hear constantly about Americans' expanding waistlines. Obesity, heart disease, and adult-onset diabetes are reaching epidemic proportions. Kids are becoming couch potatoes, truly taking on the shapes of these edible tubers.

"Gardening is a great way to combine a hobby and physical exercise," said Smith. "You bend. You squat. You walk. You carry weights. Think of the plants you could buy with all the money you spend on a health club membership you never use!"

The health benefits of gardening are impressive. Gardening uses all the major muscle groups, which do most of the calorie burning in the human body. But if you are a relatively inactive person, start slowly. Strenuous activity too rapidly and all at once can lead to injuries. Start out with light activities, taking frequent breaks. Set one daily gardening goal for the first week or two, and increase garden activities over time.

The calories burned by a person weighing 150 to 180 pounds in 30 minutes are:

  • Sleeping: 30-36
  • Sitting quietly watching TV or using computer: 40-60
  • Watering lawn or garden: 61-66
  • Mowing lawn with riding lawnmower: 86-100
  • Trimming shrubs with power tools: 120-142
  • Bagging or raking leaves: 162-165
  • Planting seedlings: 152-162
  • Planting trees: 153-182
  • Weeding: 152-182
  • Digging or spading: 170-202
  • General gardening: 200
  • Mowing lawn with push mower: 204-243
  • Double digging: 244

"We garden because we enjoy it. Share this love with others," Smith said. "Get yourself and those kids off the couch and in the garden planting seeds, watching plants grow, and being rewarded come harvest."

She added that a garden mentor can make all the difference. "Show them you care and they will begin to care as well. My father-in-law used to say, 'The best sleeping pill is a hard day of work.' Yes, you can garden excess pounds away. You will feel better, your clothes will fit once again, you will sleep better, and you will be rewarded with beautiful gardens and fresh produce that your family can enjoy."

News source/writer: Martha A. Smith, 309-756-9978309-756-9978,

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