Five years have passed since Jeff Restuccio self-published his book, "Fitness the Dynamic Gardening Way."
He's been interviewed and published in dozens of magazines and newsletters and appeared at landscaping and gardening trade shows. In electronic searches, his name will pop up as one of the country's most quoted experts on gardening and exercise.But he still hungers for the big time.
"I'm the champion of a simple idea," said Restuccio, a 40-year-old computer salesman who lives with his family in Cordova, Tenn. "Take gardening and expand it to include exercise and psychological well-being."
Restuccio, who pictures himself lunging and weeding with Geraldo and raking aerobically with Regis and Kathie Lee, isn't famous yet, but he's still enthusiastic.
"I feel like Bill Gates in the 1970s," Restuccio said. "It isn't easy being the `before' story."
Restuccio wants gardeners to know how they can turn weeding and seeding into aerobic and muscle-strengthening workouts. He suggests short gardening sessions three or four times a week. He advocates using organic growing methods to produce healthful fruits and vegetables. And he suggests several ways gardening can reduce stress.
The idea that exercise can be worked into daily life in small doses is taking root in academic quarters as well.
A pilot study by the prevention center of the University of Tennessee and University of Memphis will look at sedentary women, ages 50 to 65, to see if walking for 10 minutes three times a day several days a week will lower the risk for certain diseases.
"I think we've labored under the notion that there is only one way to exercise and that's to produce fitness, and if we're not producing fitness it's a waste of time," said Bryant Stamford, director of the Health Promotions Center at the University of Louisville. "But the bulk of the research does not support that at all."
Exercise or physical activity should be a process, not the end product, that leads to the reduction of risk for heart disease, he said.
"When you view it like that, you don't have to jog, do aerobics or use a Nordic Track," said Stamford, the author of "Fitness Without Exercise." "You have hundreds of choices, and gardening, like Jeff recommends, is one ofthem."
Stamford said small increments of activity can be advantageous - whether it's walking because you park the car far from the office or taking the stairs instead of the elevator.
Gardening magazines were the first to publish reviews, interviews and freelance articles about the dynamic gardening concept. Then came health publications such as the Berkeley Health and Wellness Newsletter and the American Institute for Cancer Research Newsletter. Restuccio has also appeared in Cooking Light, McCall's, Family Circle, U.S. News and World Report and Fitness.
"I'm going after (the publications of) insurance companies next," Restuccio said. "Who has more of a vested interest in wellness than insurance companies?"
Because the dynamic gardening concept mixes gardening with fitness and nutrition, it doesn't fit neatly into magazines aimed at only one of the subjects. That's been a stumbling block. Restuccio's background could be another.
"My formal training in gardening is I don't have any," Restuccio said. "I don't have any formal training in phys ed or physical therapy. If I did, I probably wouldn't have come up with Dynamic Gardening because it's so different. I would think things have to be done the way they've always been done."
But Restuccio studied the research for his book and had every chapter reviewed by an expert in the subject. They are acknowledged in the book.
Restuccio says one of the first steps to dynamic gardening is a change in the way most people view yardwork. "Instead of saying, `I'm going to work in the yard,' say, `I'm going to exercise in the yard,"' he says as he does a couple of chin-ups and dips on bars built in his garden. "See? It's just like going to the spa but doesn't cost anything."
Warming up and using well-designed tools will make gardeners less likely to end up with aches and pains, he said. Warming up is accomplished by walking around the yard a few times, doing leg lifts or a few stretches.
Instead of engaging in infrequent, long gardening sessions, he advocates doing 30 minutes or so three or four times a week.
The prevention center pilot study will research the benefits of even small increments of exercise.
"Most people are not getting 30 minutes of sustained exercise three to four times per week," said Dr. Suzanne Satterfield, a UT physician who is leading the study. "For people getting no exercise, the feeling is a little may be better than nothing."
Her study will be limited to 25 participants. Depending on the findings, the prevention center may try to get funds for a bigger study.
But for those who are already gardening, Restuccio's ideas can make the activity more beneficial. Instead of bending from the waist to do chores like raking or hoeing, he suggests standing with legs apart, knees bent slightly and the back straight.
Alternating sides and hands while weeding or raking helps work the muscleson both sides.
For planting or weeding, he suggests kneeling on a pad, sitting on a low stool or bending down on one knee and keeping the other knee bent with the foot flat on the ground. If you're as fit as Restuccio, you can squat.
"Ninety-nine percent of people who garden do it incorrectly from a physiological standpoint," he said.
Instead of fancy weight benches and barbells, Restuccio suggests taking a couple of milk jugs filled with water to the garden. Hold them in front of your body and raise them up in front of you to shoulder height. Repeat several times. Then raise them from your waist laterally out to shoulder height and repeat.
"There are several muscle groups ordinary gardening misses," Restuccio said. Biceps and chest muscles need special attention from the milk jug weights, dip bar or chin-up bar.
This year Restuccio is making his garden smaller and more manageable - an act he advocates for other dynamic gardeners as well. As the Mid-South correspondent for Organic Gardening magazine, he tests flower and vegetable seeds and is growing sunflowers and tomatoes to rate for the magazine. He is also a founding member of MIDSON, Mid-South Organic Network.
In one raised bed are some ripe strawberries ready for picking. "Fat-free," he says.
The bed has been enriched with leaves from his neighbor. "I told him to throw his leaves over and I'll give him some tomatoes," Restuccio said.
"Everything fits in with this method," Restuccio said. "You get to spend time with your children, do something good for the environment and your health and practice the virtues of patience, perseverence and tolerance."
To make his rake easier to grip, Restuccio attaches a D-handle to the long handle.
The new "Snake Rake" by True Temper features a curving adjustable handlethat is much easier to use than the straight varieties. His favorite tool is a hand-weeder sold by Smith & Hawken. Restuccio also thinks a post-hole digger for planting shrubs or perennials is great exerciseif used about five minutes at every gardening session.
Like all organic gardeners, Restuccio keeps a compost pile. Turning it with a pitch fork also builds arm muscles.
He's an enthusiastic gardener but not a perfect one. "I'm more of a naturalist," he said. "Everyone wants perfection - perfect lawn, perfect body," he said. "I say if something dies in the garden, don't worry. You're getting exercise."