Although life in the 21st century is said to be “fast-paced,” many of us spend our waking life sitting (or slouching) in a chair. Consider these statistics: On average, Americans sit for 9.3 hours, while we spend 7.7 hours sleeping. Between 1980 and 2000, exercise rates stayed the same while “sitting time” increased 8 percent and obesity rates doubled.
This motionless, inactive way of life is just not the way we were meant to live, and is detrimental to our health. Regular movement protects us from disease in several ways, but most importantly it prevents oxidative damage and inflammation—the primary mechanisms underlying most modern diseases.
As a certified CrossFit trainer, I have witnessed first hand the explosion of “functional fitness,” a fitness system designed to prepare real people to handle real-life situations. “Functional movements” are performed at a high intensity and are constantly varied. Functional fitness borrows from disciplines such as yoga, Pilates, dance, and gymnastics.
This method is intended to prepare your body to perform normal daily activities such as walking, bending, lifting, and climbing stairs—without pain, injury, or discomfort. It typically involves periods of intense activity followed by periods of less intense activity, or moving in repetitious ways, for a period of time that, practically speaking, “gets the job done.”
Basically, the idea is to either do certain exercises that impact the body in the same ways as natural, daily activities, or perform the activities that are part of your lifestyle as if they were exercises. So, what daily activity provides a range of movements at varied intensities?
Did someone say gardening?
What would it look like if all of us began to look to our garden as a source of health and fitness? My friend Sue, marketing manager for Wild Planet, stops by her community garden each morning on her way to the office. It’s like her daily “gym ritual.”
While the rest of America is churning on the treadmill, watching the morning news, what would it look like if we began to view our daily chores in the garden as a source of transformational fitness? Allow me to show you how. Here are three functional exercises that, when performed with intentionality, have dramatic impact on the human physical condition:
1. Air squat. The squat is essential to your well-being. It can keep your hips, back, and knees sound and functioning in your senior years. Not only is the squat not detrimental to the knees; it is remarkably rehabilitative when performed properly.
Turn your weeding routine into a session of air squats. Each time you bend down into your rows to pull a weed, perform a proper air squat. The movement should be performed as follows:
• Stand with your back arched. Look straight ahead.
• Keeping weight on your heels, squat down below parallel, while channeling your knees outward.
• Keep your chest high and midsection tight.
• Return to a standing position while opening up the hips.
By the time you pull the last weed, you will have performed several sets of squats!
2. Deadlift. There is no greater exercise than the deadlift. It is unrivaled in its simplicity while unique in its capacity for increasing functional strength. If your fitness goal is to maintain functional independence well into your senior years, the deadlift is the most effective means to that end.
You can build the deadlift into your gardening routine by using it every time you bend down to pick up a heavy object (watering can, container, bag of soil, etc.). Here’s how to perform it properly:
• Start in a natural stance with feet under hips.
• Squat down (using the air squat technique above) and place a symmetrical grip on the object, with your shoulders slightly forward of the object.
• Keep your chest up, abs tight, and arms locked. Your shoulders should be pinned back and down.
• Look straight ahead while keeping your back arched.
• As you stand, the object you are lifting travels along the legs until you are locked out.
3. Cardio. Functional fitness includes short bursts of exertion in an effort to elevate your heart rate and build a strong cardiovascular system. Try turning ordinary tasks such as tilling, shoveling, raking, hauling, and mowing into mini cardio sessions.
As you perform these movements, do them with enough rigor that your heart rate becomes elevated and breathing slightly labored. Try to maintain this rigor for 60 to 90 seconds, then back off. This is called interval training. Intervals are the most effective way to build your cardiovascular system and increase your metabolism.
These are just three simple ways of turning everyday gardening tasks into dynamic and transformational movements. Gardening is the gateway to health and fitness. Our culture has a lot to learn from the activity of gardening. Together, we can become models for movement in a world that doesn’t move enough!
One of the attributes that I love most about organic gardeners is their obsession with real, authentic food.
No community of people is more in tune with where their food comes from and how it is produced than those who garden organically. There is no greater human experience than preparing a meal using fresh, organic ingredients straight from the garden. Food has the power to change our health and the lens through which we view the world.
Organic gardeners are for real!
It’s often said that the garden is the gateway to health. Once you engage people with the experience of growing, nurturing, harvesting, and ingesting real, authentic food, it has the power to change them from the inside out.
When people choose to garden organically, this decision has an impact on every aspect of their lives. They become more in sync with their own personal health, the health of their families, and the health of their environment. Organic gardeners are the essence of health, and their organic way of life impacts their mind, body, and spirit in a profound way.
In Sane Living in a Mad World (Rodale, 1972), Robert Rodale wrote that “a desire to have good food is one of the most important reasons why people have gardens. A recent survey showed that more people now garden for food than to grow flowers or other ornamentals—probably the best evidence you can ask for that store food isn’t satisfying people’s desire for quality.”
These prophetic words were written almost 40 years ago and have never been more relevant. Our food system has by no means improved. Never has a culture subsisted on a diet of processed, irradiated, and pasteurized food stripped of its vital nutrients more than our culture today.
There have been several headlines in the news recently about government raids on raw-milk and organic-food purveyors. Raw milk refers to milk produced in its pure, organic, and unadulterated form. These headlines bring me a sense of hope and optimism about the future of our food system. People are standing up and demanding their right to real, authentic food.
When it comes to real food, raw milk is a personal choice that I make because of its many health benefits. Sure, the health benefits of raw milk are a debatable topic, but I have experienced the benefits first-hand.
After much research and experimentation, I have found that the benefits far outweigh the risks. And I encourage you to check it out for yourself.
After all, health is a journey.
In the words of Jack LaLanne: “We don’t know all the answers. If we knew all the answers we’d be bored, wouldn’t we? We keep looking, searching, trying to get more knowledge.”
That’s what real, authentic living is all about.
In Sane Living, Robert Rodale went on to say that “many people today are eating lousy food. They are doing to themselves just what careless gardeners do to their gardens when they plant seeds in poor soil. These unfortunate millions of people grow and mature, but they are like the runt plants growing in eroded fields or poorly fertilized gardens. They’re alive, but that’s about all.”
My challenge to you, organic-gardening community, is to embrace real food like never before.
Research the health benefits of raw milk and support your local, organic farmers who are making these scarce but beneficial foods available to us. For a complete listing of raw-milk purveyors in your area, click here.
As we approach the harvest season, consider inviting a friend, family member, or neighbor for dinner so that they can experience the power and transformation of a “real food” experience.
Together, we will change the health of our communities and nation, one real foodie at a time.