Raking in exercise during yardwork

The Baltimore Sun

So, your body never quite got ready for bathing suit season.

Be glad for second chances: Fall yardwork has arrived.

Lurking in every overstuffed gutter, stranglehold of weeds, mountain of leaves and unwinterized swimming pool may be the keys to a buffer bod.

Richard Johnson of Center Moriches, N.Y., knows something about this kind of seasonal shape-up. "I have a new home, so I've been working since spring, trying to get this place presentable on the outside," he said.

But Johnson, 54, is not your average hose-heaving homeowner. He's also chairman of the physical therapy program at SUNY Stony Brook and a practicing physical therapist in Hauppauge, N.Y. So he knows about pain - especially when it comes to yardwork.

"Like any workout, if you are going to get anything out of it, you have to do it regularly," he said. "My concern is when people do spring and fall cleaning just for two days and no other regular exercise. ... My suggestion, especially, is to find some physical activity each week."

Just make sure you are in good cardiac health before you even think about starting to push, pull and lift.

That said, here are a few ways to turn over a new leaf by cleaning up a yard full of old ones - and without falling into physical disrepair yourself.

Raking. This works primarily the trunk muscles, shoulder muscles and lower leg muscles, Johnson said. "I think the biggest mistake here is that people rake too far away from the body. And people do too much raking in the beginning," he said. His advice: Alternate which hand holds the rake - and be sure to rake and break.

Shoveling. The focus here is on lower legs, knees, buttocks and quadriceps. "Keep the shovel close to the body; don't overfill it," he said. "I prefer to use a longer-handle shovel so I don't bend over as much. The longer handle allows me to bend at the knees and keep my back fairly straight." As with the rake, switch hands.

The most common mistake that leads to injury is using the muscles around the lower spine instead of the legs and quadriceps.

Closing the pool. Lower legs and back muscles get into the swim here, Johnson said. "For people who are scrubbing inside the pool, it's better to get into the pool and do it, rather than reach over the edges and brush the inside wall," he said. This reduces the amount of bending.

Cleaning leaders and gutters. "Going up the ladder is the best exercise," said Johnson. Climbing activities use the big muscle groups, the buttocks and quadriceps. "The thing is, you have to move the ladder and go up and down. If you are sitting on the roof and moving along the roof, you don't get the same workout."

Johnson suggests one final strategy for the yardwork workout: Regardless of the activity, pace yourself and don't push too hard.

"If I dedicate a day to working in the yard, I might watch a ball game and every other inning go in and watch the scores," he said. "Or drink a lot."

Water, that is. Johnson recommends taking frequent water breaks.

Caryn Eve Murray writes for Newsday.

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