Overcoming failure in building a healthy habit: Will low expectations help?


This time I’m keeping it simple…

My youngest daughter is trying to build a daily running habit and I’m trying to build a daily gardening habit. Which one has more health benefits? The answer isn’t as much of a no-brainer as you might think.

Gardening tasks such as hoisting bags of soil build strength, while bending down to tend plants increases flexibility and dexterity. Many gardening chores also burn more calories than you think: up to 320 per hour of raking, 360 per hour of weeding and 400 per hour of digging, depending on your body size. No wonder gardeners tend to have a significantly lower BMI than their non-gardening neighbors and are typically thinner than their own non-gardening siblings as well.

In a 12-year study of 4,000 people over age 60, those with a daily gardening routine or similar activity had a 37 percent less risk of heart attack or stroke and a 30 percent reduced risk of death from all causes. Believe it or not, the report, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, showed that the daily gardeners were at no less risk than similarly aged marathoners.

It’s not like I’m planning to give up running for gardening. I have a long history of starting and then abandoning garden projects. I get “too busy” and then several days or even weeks go by when I don’t go out there at all and by then it seems hopeless. After several years of this, I had pretty much concluded that I’m just not cut out to be a gardener.

But I’m making one last attempt, and this time I’m keeping it simple. Just a handful of plants I’m trying to keep alive in a small patch of ground salvaged from what had been a burn pile.

The goal is to go out and do something in the garden every day for 21 days, which is supposedly the length of time it takes to build a habit. Colleen’s trying to do the same thing with running, which is something she’s tried and then abandoned many times as well.

In both cases, we plan to measure our success not so much by what we have to show for our efforts at the end of that time, but simply by whether we’re still showing up every day.

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