Book review: Get fit through gardening.

Get Fit Through Gardening:  Advice, Tips, and Tools for Better Health – Jeffrey P. Restuccio (2008, Hatherleigh Press)

Everyone knows that gardening can be a real physical workout:  the vigourous pull of raking, the lift and twist of shovelling, the repetitive motion of weeding, the forceful push of a lawn mower or a wheelbarrow, the hilling of potatoes or the turning of compost – it all makes your body move, sometimes in strange and wonderful ways that you may not be used to.  (I have firsthand experience of that – my spring cleanup this year somehow resulted in a strained hamstring!  I have to ensure that my fall cleanup doesn’t cause the same).  Many articles and guides have been written about how to address the physical nature of gardening without sustaining injury, with tips about stretching before and after performing gardening tasks, using ergonomic tools, creating a more user-friendly garden through design, and so on, but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen, until now, a book that uses the actual act of gardening itself as a fitness plan.  Forget those Bowflex infomercials  and your old Richard Simmons videotapes!   Jeffrey P. Restuccio shows the reader how to embrace gardening as a workout regimen in and of itself.  Fitness need not be a mere byproduct of your gardening labours any longer:  it can be the end goal.  And why not?

Restuccio starts off by addressing fitness equipment – no rowing machines or dumbbells here, we’re talking long-handled rakes and hoes, and short handled trowels and cultivators, all with proper weighting and length and grippy, comfortable handles.  Restuccio describes types of tools and their specific functions, and offers tips about what to buy and how to properly use/work out with them.  We’re also introduced to the mini-tiller, which some people may or may not use (depending on your opinion regarding no-till gardening) and the rotary push mower.  For all of these tools, there are specific exercises that can be performed:  “The Mini-Tiller Shuffle” is one, with accompanying photos showing a man engaged in the proper, fully extended push-and-pull action of moving the machine.  (We won’t talk about how he isn’t working out in the veggie beds, but rather on the lawn, with the tiller in the “off” position – that’s for his neighbours to speculate about).

By necessity, Restuccio devotes an entire chapter to both static and active stretching exercises and warm-ups, addressing every part of the body, and listing suggested repetitions and hold counts for each.  (There are photos for most of these stretches as well).  Had I performed many of these exercises, I likely would have prevented my hamstring boo-boo earlier this year.  While I may not be cruising around with my yoga pants and my weed-trimmer out on the front drive, I will certainly adhere to the stretching tips.  (And, really, these are good, effective stretches for any type of work, even for sitting at the computer and blogging).  Restuccio also gets into a little tiny bit of anatomy, describing how and why certain exercises work for the body:  don’t worry, though, he doesn’t go into enough detail to make your eyes glaze over.

And then, there is the workout!  Segmented into categories based on equipment use, and illustrated with photos, we have everything from the “Classic Lunge and Weed” (in which you use a short-handled weeder and the fairly common forward lunge movement, well-known to runners and most people who ever suffered through, I mean, set foot in a gym class) and “The Lawnmower In and Out” (a variation of the bench press I’ll bet you have never ever considered before) to an ergonomic take on “Digging” that incorporates very proper squats and lateral movement (without wrenching your back).  And who knew that aerating the lawn worked your triceps, or that digging post-holes could be so effective, employing your hamstrings, quadriceps, triceps, glutes, and the abdominals?  In all seriousness, I believe that many people who garden don’t really think about the types of movements they perform (or which muscles they engage) while enjoying their favourite job or pasttime, and this book quite successfully illustrates the proper form and execution of the exercises it promotes.  I don’t know that I would deliberately use garden tools in place of hand weights and I don’t think that I will be spending any extra time with the lawnmower in “rowing” practice, but this book is a good, solid fitness and health resource and the skills and knowledge gleaned from it can be easily transferred into everyday living – outside or inside the garden.

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Check out this You Tube link for a stretching video to accompany Restuccio’s book:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lDS-To5OBQM.    (It’s kind of rapid-fire, offering a very quick look at several different exercises.  I’d take them down a whole lot of notches if performing them myself).

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Related postsBook review: In the land of the blue poppies.    Book review: Tree and shrub gardening for Alberta.   Book review: Perfect perennials for the prairie gardener.

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