Gotta keep in shape for gardening, even over the winter months. (Mary Lowther photo)

Mary Lowther column: Are you fit for gardening?

One wants to stay in shape to be able to garden when she gets old

By Mary Lowther

I used to believe that during most of the year my garden provided me with enough lifts, squats and curls to keep up my girlish figure, but now that gardening season is over and I’m back to the winter workout routine, my body is telling me that gardening isn’t enough. Fortunately, November brings a time of idleness that allows time for my morning workout. So much for the hour we gain with the return to standard time!

Every year I am surprised by how much strength I lose over the summer by gardening instead of working out. One would expect the hours of digging and lifting would be a more than adequate substitute, but obviously it isn’t.

I place the problem squarely on the time change. While the extra hour in winter provides time for a morning calisthenics, what sane agriculturalist wants to get up an hour earlier in the spring after the clocks spring forward and we all know we should be getting another hour of sleep? One can easily be forgiven for rationalizing that gardening exercise should be enough, but one would be wrong.

If recent research is to be believed, we should exercise not only to keep fit, but to favour friendly gut bacteria. In his book, Brain Maker, David Perlmutter writes: “New science reveals that exercise positively influences the gut’s balance of bacteria to favour colonies that prevent weight gain.” He adds that good gut bacteria produce important chemicals that reach the brain to create new neurons and protect existing ones, and that these chemicals “can be increased through aerobic exercise as well as by consuming omega three DHA fats.” DHA fats are found in fish and seafood.

According to the Max Delbrueck Centre for Molecular Medicine in Berlin, Germany, “probiotics and exercise can balance brain plasticity (the ability of the brain to change).” Studies published in The Journal of Applied Physiology have shown that intervals of intense exercise increase the number and size of mitochondria, the energy creating cells in the body, in the brain and muscles. This means exercising until you’re short of breath and your muscles burn. Dr. Sreekumaran Nair, a researcher at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN, writes that “younger volunteers showed a 49% increase in mitochondrial capacity and the older group saw a 69% increase.” He doesn’t give the ages, but I suspect I fit into the latter group.

Clearly I don’t get enough of this kind of exercise in the garden, so I’m going to have to compensate and keep up the aerobics, whether or not we lose an hour of sleep in the spring. After all, one wants to stay in shape to be able to garden when she gets old and still be smart enough to know the difference between carrots and Queen Anne’s Lace.

Please contact mary_lowther@yahoo.ca with questions and suggestions since I need all the help I can get.

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