What Makes Gardening Good Exercise?
While enjoying yourself in the garden, you are also working all the major muscle groups: legs, buttocks, arms, shoulders, neck, back and abdomen. Gardening tasks that use these muscles build strength and burn calories.
Besides the exertion involved, gardening has other pluses that make it a good form of exercise and calorie burning.
There can be a great deal of stretching involved with gardening, like reaching for weeds or tall branches, bending to plant and extending a rake. Lifting bags of mulch, pushing wheelbarrows and shoveling all provide resistance training similar to weight lifting, which leads to healthier bones and joints. Yet while doing all this, there is minimal jarring and stress on the body, unlike aerobics or jogging.
Losing Weight by Gardening
Losing weight requires you to burn more calories than you consume and so the amount of weight you’ll lose gardening depends on several factors including your size and the task you are performing.
Some general examples from Iowa State University, below, show how some of the more strenuous gardening tasks can really burn calories.
- Digging Holes – Men: 197 calories, Women: 150 calories
- Planting – Men: 177 calories, Women: 135 calories
- Weeding – Men: 157 calories, Women: 156 calories
The National Institute of Health lists gardening for 30 – 45 minutes in its recommended activities for moderate levels of exercise to combat obesity, along with biking 5 miles in 30 minutes and walking 2 miles in the same time.
More Health Benefits of Gardening
Research is showing that gardening for just 30 minutes daily will help:
- Increase flexibility
- Strengthen joints
- Decrease blood pressure and cholesterol levels
- Lower your risk for diabetes
- Slow osteoporosis
Getting the Most Exercise out of Gardening
It takes at least 30 minutes of exercise several days a week, to really receive any health benefits from gardening. However researchers are now saying that you can break that 30 minutes up into shorter active periods throughout the day. As long as each activity lasts at least 8 minutes and is of moderate intensity, when you total them up to 30 minutes per day, you’ll reap the same rewards as if you had been gardening for a half hour straight. So you can do a little weeding in the cool of the morning and go back out to the garden in the evening to prune and trim.
Start slowly, if you’re not used to the exertion. Lift properly, by using your legs. Vary your tasks and your movements and make use of the major muscle groups, to get the most benefit. Aches and pains aren’t necessarily a sign of a good workout. Your muscles may feel tired, but they shouldn’t hurt unless you’re using muscles you haven’t worked in a while or you’re using them wrong.
Gardening isn’t usually enough exercise to forsake your daily walk or swim, but it’s nice to know those tired muscles you feel after turning the compost are actually something good you did for your body and your health. As with any other form of exercise, check with your doctor first, if you’re not used to strenuous exercise. Make sure you incorporate a little stretching before and after gardening and take things slowly in extreme heat. We do garden for the pleasure, after all. Getting in shape and losing weight are just the icing on the cake.
They say gardening is great exercise, but few gardeners make the effort to warm up and stretch the way they would before any other exercise activity. If theres a time when that effort is needed, its springtime. After a long off-season of sitting, you need to ease your body into the stretches, lifting and contortions you are going to demand of it in the garden. Check with your doctor before starting any type of exercise, including the stretches mentioned below.
The most common gardening injuries are back strain and knee pain. Some easy stretching will go a long way toward lessening both of these. And I do mean easy. You can stretch your back by lying on the floor, pulling your knees into your chest and wrapping your arms around them. Hold that position for a minute, relax and repeat 2 more times.
Stretch your shoulders by holding a towel over your head. Bring the towel behind your head, with one hand and lower the other hand to below shoulder height. Hold and gently pull on the towel. Switch sides and repeat.
Legs will benefit from a runners stretch such as bracing yourself on a counter top while you stretch first one leg behind you and then the other.
Here are some reminders for getting in gardening shape and staying there:
- Pace yourself. Do the hard stuff first, before you’re tired out and more likely to overexert.
- Don’t hunch. If you squat when you weed, keep your back as straight as possible and move along as you weed, don’t reach too far.
- When lifting, always bend from the knees, not the waist, and try to keep your back straight. Use your thigh muscles to do the lifting. Move your feet closer to the object you are lifting and take a wide stance, to balance yourself. Keep the object close to you as you lift it.
- Don’t lift and twist in the same movement.
- Knee on both knees at the same time to avoid the temptation to twist or strain. Use a knee pad.
- Use tools with comfortable handles. Wrap the grip with an old piece of hose or coat with rubber paint, for gripping comfort. Remember to change hands from time to time.
- When using long handled tools, stand straight and keep your knees relaxed. If you need to twist or pivot, step into the twist to ease tension on the back.
- Get out that wheelbarrow or wagon and use it.
Information courtesy of the British Heart Foundation.