Getting the Most From Your Gardening
With the warmer weather finally here, many
of us have begun to head outdoors and start working on our lawns
and gardens. Gardening is the second most popular form of activity,
attracting 72% of Canadian adults. (It is second only to our favourite
Gardening offers many health benefits, can
be good for the environment and enhances the appearance of your
home and yard. Maintaining your prescribed exercise program will
assist you in returning to some or all of your gardening tasks.
It is important however, to determine what gardening activities
are safe for you to do and to plan your activity.
Gardening involves a combination of endurance,
flexibility and strength activities. For example, activities such
as mowing the lawn, raking and gathering leaves, hoeing the garden
and spreading mulch keep you moving continuously and require cardiovascular
and muscular endurance. Activities such as bending and stretching
to plant, weeding, pruning and watering plants requires adequate
flexibility and joint range of motion. Activities such as digging
in the garden, turning compost, carrying bags or branches and other
clean up activities require muscular strength. Your rehabilitation
program incorporates all of these specific components of physical
fitness. In order for you to garden effectively and with ease, it
must be done in conjunction with your exercise program.
There are many considerations in determining
which gardening activities may be suitable for you. Depending on
the type of gardening activity you are performing, the workload
on your heart and muscles can range from light to very heavy. Tasks
such as watering the lawn, using a riding mower, light pick-up in
the yard and walking to apply fertilizer or lawn seed are fairly
light in intensity. Trimming shrubs with a power cutter, light raking,
bagging grass and leaves, and planting seedlings and shrubs are
more moderately intense activities. Heavier intensity activities
include pushing a lawn mower, digging, spading, carrying bags and
trimming shrubs and may not be appropriate for everyone. Remember,
the intensity of these activities will not be exactly the same for
each individual as it also depends on a number of other factors
including your fitness level, current activity level, and medical
For individuals with heart disease, it is
especially important to take extra precautions to ensure that you
are working within your physical capabilities. Here are some general
guidelines for keeping your time in the garden safe and enjoyable:
- Treat gardening as you would exercise and
ensure a proper warm up. Spend at least 5-10 minutes doing some
easy walking or very light activities such as standing and walking
to water the lawn. Incorporate some arm, back and leg stretches
to warm up your muscles.
- Throughout your gardening session, monitor your Rating of Perceived
Exertion (RPE) and pulse rate just as you would with your exercise
program. RPE should not exceed a moderate to somewhat hard level
(i.e. 3 - 4 out of 10 or 11-13 out of 20) and your pulse rate should
not go beyond what has been prescribed to you by your Exercise Therapist.
(See RPE scales listed at the end of this article)
- Monitor yourself for symptoms such as angina, shortness of breath,
dizziness, fatigue or any other muscle aches and pains. Discontinue
the activity if you are experiencing angina, and take your nitro
- Check the heat safety index (see article on exercising in the
heat) prior to gardening sessions. Remember, no outdoor activities
if the temperature and humidity are in the Danger or Emergency zone
or if there is an Air Quality Advisory in effect.
- Wear light coloured, loose fitting clothing, sunscreen, hat and
- It's easy to get caught up in gardening activities and forget
that the body needs replenishing with fluids, especially when you're
outside in the sun. Drink a glass of water before, during (every
20 minutes) and after your time in the garden.
- When doing activities that require bending, stooping or kneeling
vary your position for comfort. Use a soft pad under your knees
or a small stool to sit on. Gardening in raised beds, planters or
barrels is ideal if you want to sit while you work. There are also
special (longer) tools available if your range of motion is limited.
- Pace yourself and plan regular rest breaks, especially if you're
a weekend gardener. Extend the length of your sessions gradually
and don't work too hard or too long during any one session. Stop
before you're tired and sore.
- Avoid heavy lifting and carrying. Use a cart or trolley to transport
heavy items or ask for assistance from a friend, family member or
neighbour. If you are lifting lighter items remember to stand close
to the object with your feet comfortably apart. Lift with your legs
and keep the object close to your body. Lift slowly and smoothly,
and make sure you do not hold your breath.
- Remember that some gardening tasks may not be appropriate for
everyone as they are quite vigorous and require a high level of
physical fitness. (See paragraph listing the heavier intensity gardening
- Call your Exercise Therapist for specific advice and guidelines
before you start gardening or if you have any questions about performing
Gardening can be a great physical activity
that can compliment your current exercise program. It is not only
good for the heart and muscles, but it's good for the soul. What
a great way to get outdoors and get in touch with the wonders of
nature. Have a great season and happy gardening!
Rating of Perceived
Exertion Scale (0-10)
|| No effort
hard effort - Maximal
Rating Of Perceived Exertion Scale (6-20)
CCRF would like to thank the Rouge Valley Health System - Cardiac Rehabilitation Services for their contribution to the website.
The articles, on the Cardiac Health Foundation of Canada website, are presented with the understanding that the Foundation is providing information only and not rendering medical advise. Please check with your family physician, specialist or health care professional before implementing any of the ideas expressed in these articles.
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