Last week I decided to try a short experiment; something a little different. I am fifty this year – did I mention it at all? For quite some time, I have been trying to introduce more exercise in my life. I used to be able to go to the gym and do aerobic exercise. This kept me slim. In 2009 I had to have serious spinal surgery and I now have a cage and rods in my back. I am not allowed to do any form of aerobic exercise for fear of damaging my back. Whilst I am grateful that my operation was successful and enabled me to be able to walk again, then I am concerned at my lack of fitness.
Last year, I joined a gym that had a swimming pool and decided that I would go three or four times a week and do my lengths. I’m not a very confident swimmer and I have to admit, that I hate to get water in my eyes. However, I used to swim continuously for about forty-five minutes whilst listening to Desert Island Discs.
Sadly, things didn’t really work out. There are two main issues about using swimming pools: elderly people and kids. If you go off-peak, then the pool will be full of elderly people who have just had a hip or knee replacement and spend the entire time just walking up and down the pool, whilst chatting to their mates. Elderly gentlemen like to show off, and they will often spend their sessions doing the butterfly in tight Speedos, right in the middle of the slow lane. If you go in the early to late evening, then the pool is usually full of kids’ swimming lessons. You can’t win. In the end something that should have been relaxing, became fraught with issues.For quite some time, I have been trying to find a form of regular exercise to undertake that is not going to make me feel stressed.
Gardening is one of my favourite hobbies. I have written at length about how gardening helped me to recover from severe depression. Gardening is a great form of exercise. There is the lifting, the bending down, the digging, the raking, the carrying, etc. All of this can help you to develop quite a sweat. It’s also far more interesting than going on gym equipment, because you can see a result. I love to listen to the radio whilst gardening.
With this idea in my mind, I decided to do gardening every day for a week and see if I could see any progress in my fitness. This was not a scientific experiment, since I do not possess all the necessary equipment to test my progress scientifically. However, I was hoping that I would be able to see some results in terms of my mobility and possibly even my mental health. I am not someone who enjoys doing exercise just for the sake of it and so at least with gardening, then I hoped to be able to see just what I have achieved in a week. Fortunately, the weather outlook for last week was dry and sunny; a great omen!
I decided that I needed to spend a period of two to four hours in the garden every day. This was not always easy, as I have housework, meals to prepare, as well as my part-time teaching job. I needed to be very organised and efficient with my time management in order to fit it in. I would get up extra early, go outside with my radio and gardening tools, and listen to Radio 4, whilst working my way around my garden. I have quite a big garden, but it is on a slope and it can be challenging. I have hardly been in the garden since Winter and I had a lot of weeding, pruning and digging to do. I grow Pampas grass and that ends up everywhere. The leaves it produces stick to skin and clothing. It’s a bit like doing battle with some sort of creature from Classical mythology!
The first couple of days were challenging. I am going through the menopause and one side effect is that I am always boiling hot and sweaty. I was endlessly wiping my brow and when I had finished in the garden, I would always need to sit next to the fan to cool down for a while. However, the first positive result I noticed was that the skin on my face seemed to be even smoother than usual. There was a healthy glow in my cheeks. I could genuinely feel the release of endorphins and my mood lifted significantly once I had been in the garden. The exercise I was doing in the garden was certainly pushing my body. I was regularly carrying heavy pots full of soil down to the compost heap. I’m so small in height, that I was constantly reaching up to pull down branches and cut back trailing plants. After three days of gardening, I could feel the difference in my mental and physical health. I had much more energy. I was glowing inside and out. I felt happier and my mind seemed sharper. I also seemed far more flexible and mobile and my clothes were much looser.
Sadly, today the weather has changed, and it is now raining. Our garden is on clay soil and the grass becomes slippery in the wet weather. My green bin is also full to the brim, there is very little, if anything, remaining to be done in my garden. Every single bush and rose tree has been pruned, all the weeds have gone, the soil has been turned over and I have planted many new plants and seeds, as well as designing and making my hanging baskets. Reluctantly, I have had to stay indoors today. Already, I can feel that my mood is somewhat despondent, compared to how I have felt after being in my garden.
And so, for the way forward. Am I going to continue to garden every day? The answer is a resounding, “Yes, as long as the weather permits.” I can honestly say that gardening makes me feel elated. I am aware that there is only so much that can be done in a garden and so in order to profit from my success, I am going to investigate the possibility of having an allotment. For me, and I suspect that this is the case for many people, exercise needs to be enjoyable, as well as something that can be easily incorporated into my daily life. Gardening fulfils both provisos and what is more, when I have finished in my garden I can stand back, look at the result and say, “I did that!” There is nothing more satisfying and worthwhile.