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Gardening is exercise

Series: Carol OMeara | Story 17

I recently underwent a health assessment which involved a lengthy questionnaire on how I care for myself. It was part of a getting acquainted process with a new medical company. Things went smoothly until the interviewer asked about any exercise I routinely do. I said "Gardening."

She nodded and said she was interested in what I did for exercise, ignoring my input on my green thumb activities. I reiterated, "Yes – I garden. Every day. Vegetable gardening." Again, I got the nod without any notation on her questionnaire while she said, "Ok, so, no routine exercise."

In retrospect I should have remembered I was trying to impress, not frighten, them but my gardener's heart was insulted. Taking a deep breath, I launched into what my friends describe as my oh-no-here-she-goes mode.

"Gardening is exercise, and there are many studies that back this up," I said. "And plenty of gardeners say it's like Pilates or yoga. But in my case, let me give you a glimpse: imagine yourself in my version of the yoga Warrior position. This is where you stand with your legs as far apart as they can go front to back, forward knee bent, with your arms held out."

Patiently, she nodded. "Now, add in downward dog, bending at your waist until you're eye-level with the mulch. It's basically a downward dog who thinks it's a warrior; I call it The Chihuahua. Hold the Chihuahua position while you pick every cherry tomato from the plants. It could be 30 seconds or 3 minutes. Are you with me so far?" I said with seriousness. Her stare became fixed.

"Now, let's sprinkle in the child's game The Floor Is Lava – do you remember that?" I asked and she nodded. "You can't put your feet anywhere else because you'd step in lava – or in this case, on your pumpkin vines. Keep holding that position until the tomatoes are picked; it's strength training for all sorts of muscles."

"Walking through the garden is a game of garden Twister, where you swoop your torso around to avoid squirrel-netted grapes, trellis outcrops, and lean over dog fencing. It's great for your glutes," I note. "All this time the basket you carry can't be tilted or it spills but it's getting heavier and lopsided – that's for your arms and shoulders."

"Pumping iron in a gym is fine for some, but it's a whole-body routine when squashes and pumpkins come in. Some of them – pumpkins, Hubbards, and banana squash especially – often weigh 20 pounds or more. You'd better lift with your legs when moving them. And, while most of the other winter squashes are smaller, gardeners try to carry them all at once in a spectacular demonstration of the Human Wheelbarrow maneuver."

"This is just harvesting. Weeding, now there's an activity to rival any rowing machine," I say rocking back and forth while mimicking the grab and pull of the activity. She starts rocking as well, in small motions that suggest her subconscious is getting into the conversation. "Bend-and-pull and bend-and-pull, plus there's the breathing activity, where you explosively scream, 'where do they all come from?' It's very therapeutic."

"Honestly, it's why many gardeners have a spring training routine, to get our bodies ready for the rigors of summer," I said. "It's also why plenty of us have stock in ibuprofen manufacturers." At this point, the interviewer acquiesced, noting that my exercise is gardening. I felt pretty good about making my point, but then she moved on to the next section: mental health. Looking up at me she said, "I think we have all the information we need."


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