Green grows the lawn: Health benefits of mowing
By Denise A. Valenti

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Mowing the lawn has both mind and body benefits. Linda Wasmer Andrews in her report published in Pyschology Today states: "There's something meditative about pushing a mower back and forth across that patch of green. Plus, it's a practical way to work in a workout while burning some serious calories. So save the money on a lawn-care service, and find another excuse to hire the neighborhood teen."

INDUSTRY PULSE

Do you suggest lawn-mowing as exercise for elderly patients?
  • 1. Yes
  • 2. No

In a 2010 study, James Dear and his colleagues compared 40 minutes of mowing a lawn to nine holes of golf in healthy, active older men with an average age of 71 years old. The researchers found that even when the golfers pulled their own bags rather than using a cart, the golf activity did not meet the recommended intensity and energy expenditure requirements for health benefits specified by the American College of Sports Medicine — but the lawn-mowing activity did. Regular physical activity — including lawn-mowing — has demonstrable benefits: higher high-density lipoprotein cholesterol, lower heart rate and lower body mass index.

Lawn-mowing can approximate aerobic activity with a high physical demand and may evoke heart rate and systolic blood pressure responses that approach and exceed those attained during clinical assessments of exercise testing. The high cardiac demands can be masked by a misperception of the effort required.

But lawn-mowing can have variable exertion with lesser demands, depending on the type mower. Push mowers require greater exertion, while self-propelled mowers require less. Using self-propelled mowers at slow pace also decreases the amount of energy expended and can, with medical guidance, be means of exercise in those with coronary artery disease. A study of common household chores using a laboratory setting and real-life households showed a substantially higher physical demand with lawn-mowing when compared to either vacuuming or sweeping.

As with any physical activity, discretion and current physical status and health should be taken into consideration prior to undertaking the physical activity. Previous cardiac events do not preclude the incorporation of lawn-mowing as a means of exercise. Lawn-mowing has historically been an activity that was strongly discouraged after coronary artery bypass surgery.

A research team at Baylor University in Dallas tested 13 participants over six sessions using a simulated lawn-mowing activity developed to match the push and pull forces of an outdoor nonpropelled push lawn mower. Electrocardiograms, heart rates and blood pressures were monitored during each session. They found no evidence of adverse arrhythmias, and there were no detrimental heart rates or blood pressure.

What can be detrimental for all those mowing lawns is the adverse effect of high heat. In their publications regarding cooling during seasons of heat, the NationalGrid Electric reports: "Prolonged temperatures of 90 degrees F or above, accompanied by high humidity, can cause the body's temperature to rise and place a strain on the heart and blood vessels — the most important parts of the body's natural cooling system. This heat stress can result in serious illness, heart failure or a stroke."

A research group from John Hopkins University studied medical usage associated with lawns and found that high heat and heat-related illness are reasons for emergency room visits related to lawn-mowing. The group suggests avoiding bad weather and high heat when mowing the lawn. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention acknowledges those who work outdoors are more likely to become dehydrated and are more likely to get heat-related illness.

When undertaken thoughtfully with appropriate clearance from medical professionals and attention to the environment and weather, mowing the lawn can be an enjoyable means to achieve the recommended level of physical activity, even for those with coronary or cardiac issues. Keeping that patch of lawn groomed and green can result in physical and emotional gains.

Dr. Denise A. Valenti is a residency-trained, low-vision/blind-rehabilitation optometrist with additional education and expertise in the field of age-related neurodegenerative diseases with the emphasis on Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's disease. Her research has included the study of imaging of retinal neural tissue using Optical Coherence Tomography and functional assessment of neural processing in the visual system using Frequency Doubling Technology. Dr. Valenti provided direct clinical care for more than 25 years and currently is active in research and consultation related to vision, aging, neuroprocessing and cognitive functions.