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Yard work – the ultimate fall workout

By Diane Griffith, Staff Writer, myOptumHealth

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Leaves are beginning to fall, yet the grass still needs mowing. It’s almost time to give your yard the usual fall cleanup and to plant bulbs for the spring. Looks like your spare time is booked solid. The good news? You’ve got a great workout routine ready and waiting, so grab your rake and get started!

Yard work enhances your endurance, flexibility and strength and is a perfect way to control your weight. Raking and bagging leaves, mowing your lawn and pushing a wheelbarrow help your heart, lungs and circulatory system to stay healthy.

Bending and stretching allow your muscles to remain relaxed while joints are mobile. Digging in the garden, hauling leaves and carrying branches strengthen your muscles and bones.

If you haven’t been keeping up with the yard work and your body’s not used to it, do check with your doctor before grabbing that shovel. In fact, be sure to check with your doctor before starting any physical activity or exercise program.

Burning calories

Raking, bagging and carrying leaves burn about 330 calories per hour. Clearing and digging can burn approximately 400. Using a manual mower burns about 490 calories, while a power mower burns 300. Laying sod, pulling weeds and planting trees use up 360.

Yard work also helps to relieve stress, providing time for problem solving or daydreaming. Seeing the results of your work can also give you a feeling of accomplishment.

Similarities between yard work and traditional exercise:

  • Push mowers exercise leg, arm and shoulder muscles.
  • Digging involves weight lifting, abdominal stretching and squatting
  • Digging requires as much energy as aerobics and swimming.
  • Weeding involves forearm stretches and squatting.
  • Carrying wood, clearing land, hauling branches and laying sod give you a workout equivalent to stationary bicycling.
  • You can burn as many calories in 45 minutes of yard work as in 30 minutes of aerobics.

Health benefits for older adults

Even moderate levels of physical activity – such as raking leaves – can benefit older adults. Such activity can prevent or delay many chronic diseases and conditions, including diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure. It can also help reduce the risk for colon cancer.

Exercise and osteoporosis

According to the International Osteoporosis Foundation, impact and weight bearing exercises are best for maintaining healthy bone mass. Some of these kinds of activities include skipping, jogging or weight training.

Raking without pain

When raking leaves, it’s important to prevent back injuries and muscle strain. Here are some techniques to reduce injury:

  • Warm up with a short walk before you begin, followed by light stretching.
  • Avoid twisting. Don’t bend at the waist and reach for leaves. Instead, keep your feet shoulder-width apart with one foot forward and rake the leaves in a backward direction, toward yourself.
  • Don’t try to do the entire job in one day. You wouldn’t run 10 miles the first time you tried jogging, so don’t attempt to rake the entire yard your first time out.
  • Stop and take stretching breaks to rest your muscles. Put your hands on the small of your back. Keep your knees straight and bend backwards. Lift your arms over your head and reach skyward.
  • Vary movements while raking. Alternate arm positions so one arm is not doing all the work.
  • Bend at the knees (rather than at the waist) to lift leaf bags. Avoid twisting your back as you lift. If you have to turn, rotate your entire body.
  • When you are finished working, stretch again to relieve muscle tension or soreness.

View the original Yard work – the ultimate fall workout article on myOptumHealth.com 


  • American Chiropractic Association
    • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Growing stronger – strength training for older adults Accessed: 04/01/2009



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