Cultivate a Gardening Habit

Your yard does double duty as a gym and a relaxation spa when it contains a garden. In fact, studies

Your yard does double duty as a gym and a relaxation spa when it contains a garden. In fact, studies find that gardening is one of the best activities around when it comes to preventing or improving chronic health conditions. Shoot for a minimum of 30 minutes of gardening (or other yard work) three to five days a week. You’ll be controlling your diabetes and raising your property value at the same time.

[step-list-wrapper title=”” time=””] [step-item number=”1. ” image_url=”” title=”Pencil in autumn bulb-planting on your calendar.” ] Take the family calendar, flip to one of the autumn months, and write “bulbs” on three back-to-back weekends. Plan for each bulb-planting session to last an hour. All of that digging will give you a week’s worth of strength training for your arms and shoulders, and your flowerbeds will be the envy of the neighborhood when spring rolls around.[/step-item]

[step-item number=”2. ” image_url=”” title=”Be a hands-on sodbuster.” ]When you start up a new garden, or you’re preparing an old one for new planting, break the soil up yourself with a shovel. If you’re particularly ambitious and your garden is too big to till in one session, break up the job into smaller sessions or go ahead and rent a tiller, which will still exercise your arms. In either case, wear gloves to prevent blisters.[/step-item]

[step-item number=”3. ” image_url=”” title=”Forgo poison and pull weeds by hand.” ]Give the soil in your yard a break from weed-killing chemicals. Instead, pull the interloping plants out of the dirt by hand. All you need are gloves, a small weed-digging tool, a bucket or bag in which to discard the weeds, and perhaps kneepads. With your right hand, jab the weed-digging tool into the earth at the plant’s base to loosen the roots, and then pull it out with your left. Every 10 minutes, switch hands. The activity not only beautifies your yard, it’ll burn 306 calories per hour for a 150-pound person.[/step-item]

[step-item number=”4. ” image_url=”” title=”Plant a front yard flower showcase.” ]Pick a flower bed in your front yard that’s prominent on your property and visible from the street—this is where you will devote 75 percent of your flower-planting efforts. Now give that bed the full treatment: well-fertilized soil; a newly installed, handsome border; carefully scheduled watering; and flowers selected for color, height, and season-long blooming. By hoeing, digging, and lugging the watering can, you’ll be getting an excellent workout in the garden, and you won’t even notice. To top that, the neighbors strolling by will ooh and aah, and you may even strike up friendships that you wouldn’t have otherwise.[/step-item]

[step-item number=”5. ” image_url=”” title=”Bring a radio outside and change up your tasks every four songs.” ]Varying your activities will help you avoid putting too much stress on one set of muscles. For instance, you might start by pushing heavy wheelbarrow loads of mulch from your driveway to the backyard, then switch to watering flower beds.[/step-item]

[step-item number=”6. ” image_url=”” title=”Grow a healthier garden by keeping a compost pile.” ]Compost piles are good for the environment because they return biological materials such as grass trimmings and banana peels to the soil. But that’s not all—cultivating them can give you a physical workout, too. A compost pile needs to be turned periodically to keep the rotting process humming along, which requires a little hoeing, raking, shoveling, or pitch-forking. You can burn off 250 to 300 calories in just 30 minutes of pile-turning.[/step-item]

[step-item number=”7. ” image_url=”” title=”Turn off the sprinkler.” ]The easiest way to water your garden is to set up a sprinkler, but that doesn’t do your body any good. The next time you need to give your plants a lift, take a turn around the yard and aim the hose at each plant individually—not only will you be able to monitor each plant’s progress more closely, but tugging and carrying the hose will do your muscles good. When this becomes easy for you, haul out the water can instead of the hose. You’ll know that your strength has improved when you’re able to fill the can all the way and carry it with ease.[/step-item]

[step-item number=”8. ” image_url=”” title=”Plant your own ‘locally grown’ vegetables.” ]Veggies you grow yourself are as local, and as healthy, as you can get: You know that they’re fresh as can be, and you know exactly whether pesticides or other treatments have been used on them. Successfully harvesting your own tomatoes, beans, lettuce, squash, and other vegetables is also a point of pride. You’ll be so pleased with yourself for having cultivated them that you’re more likely to cook them frequently and experiment with new recipes, and you’ll make sure that they’ll never go to waste.[/step-item]

[step-item number=”9. ” image_url=”” title=”Plant an herb garden.” ]There’s no better way to add big flavor to your meals than with fresh herbs, but they’re awfully expensive at the grocery store. The solution? Grow your own. Culinary herbs tend to thrive in hot, dry conditions where nothing else seems to flourish. Try sage, oregano, thyme, rosemary, tarragon, and basil. For the most flavorful herbs, feed plants only with compost, and water them as little as possible. This encourages compact growth and intensifies the oils that give the herbs their fragrance and flavor. To dry the herbs, cut sprigs early in the morning, when the fragrances are strongest. Place them in a large paper bag (one for each type of herb), then put the bag in a sunny spot. The herbs will dry fully within a day or two.[/step-item]

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest

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