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Drop and pull up 20 weeds to stay in shape

December 31, 2008 |  2:19 pm

In the fitness world there’s an ongoing debate about whether gardening constitutes moderate physical activity. Yes, say some; the walking, bending, digging and pruning that go on are strenuous enough to gain fitness benefits. No, say others; more vigorous movement is needed to make a difference.

GardenA recent study may put this discussion to rest, at least when it comes to older people. Researchers from Kansas State University studied the gardening habits of 14 older men and women and determined that their time spent among the foliage does count as moderate physical activity — important to note, since many people become sedentary as they age. They observed how much time the participants, ages 63 to 86, spent on tasks such as watering, walking, cleaning tools, weeding and harvesting. During these tasks their heart rates and oxygen uptake were measured to determine how hard they worked. Standard metabolic equivalent measures were used to rate the intensity.

Activities such as digging, raking and mulching used upper and lower body muscles and were considered moderate intensity, while lower intensity work like mixing soil and hand weeding engaged only the upper body.

Overall, researchers concluded the gardeners’ activity was of moderate intensity, changing with the seasons and plant growth cycles. In logs that the gardeners kept to track their activity, they reported spending on average 33 hours a week gardening in May and 15 hours a week in June and July.

The study noted that since boredom is a familiar reason many give for abandoning exercise, the dynamic qualities of gardening could help people stay active. The study was published recently in the journal HortTechnology.

-- Jeannine Stein

Photo: Carol J. Williams / Los Angeles Times