Doctors tell you to listen to your body when you exercise, but you don’t have to listen hard to know that gardening can be a real workout. When you come in after mowing the lawn, dividing lilies, or hilling potatoes, your muscles scream if you’ve overdone it. But heating pads and ice packs aside, gardening is a great way to boost your fitness. The key is to garden moderately. If you haven’t exercised in a while, start slowly and build up your activities.
If you’re like me, and you’d rather be outdoors, any day, than indoors on a treadmill, then gardening is a great option to a gym membership. (Besides, no matter how many hours you spend in a lap pool, you’ll never bring home any fresh tomatoes or green beans. Gardening has downright tasty benefits.)
Take a look at our infographic, below, to see more of the health benefits of working around your own yard. We’ve compared a simple activity, walking the dog, to some common garden chores. The calories burned are for a 150-lb. person who is active for 30 minutes at a time.
Infographic by Home Depot/Caroline Inge
If you haven’t done much gardening before, be wise, and do what the experts recommend: get a check-up and tell your doctor what you’re planning before you start.
Once you get the go-ahead, think about your fitness goals, and pick gardening activities that promise to help you reach them. Need to strengthen your aching or weak back? Raking mimics the motions you’d make on a rowing machine, giving you a light to moderate workout in your shoulders, arms, upper back, and hamstrings. (Check out all the things you can do with leaves.)
Hand strength tends to decline as we age, but trimming and pruning trees and shrubs can exercise those muscles, as well as those in our forearms, shoulders, and back. All the bending, pulling, and walking involved in weeding gives the entire body a moderate workout.
If you think you’ll miss the fancy machines in your gym, look around your shed. Your post-hole diggers, shovel, wheelbarrow, spade and trowel can stand in for them. A watering can filled with a gallon of water weighs eight pounds, which means you’re hefting the equivalent of an eight-pound weight every time you walk from the hose to the garden to give your plants a drink.
Combine those weight-bearing chores with aerobic activity, and researchers say that you may be able to prevent or slow the onset of osteoporosis, a disease that can lead to weak or broken bones.
Gardening also helps increase flexibility while you’re strengthening and toning muscles, and provides relief from stress, anxiety, and depression. Studies show that it’s better at lowering cortisol, a stress hormone, than sitting down and reading a book.
If you’re fighting the battle of the (belly) bulge, gas up that lawn mower—or better yet, sharpen the blades on a push reel mower, because gardening also helps combat obesity. Men who weigh about 155 pounds can burn approximately 236 calories for every 30 minutes they spend behind a push mower, while women of the same size can knock off about 181 calories. A power mower can burn 177 calories in a half hour for the same man, or 135 for a woman.
You don’t have to roll up your Yoga mat or forgo the neighborhood gym to benefit from a healthy workout in your own backyard. You can build those muscles, burn fat, and smell the roses all at the same time.
Tips for working in your garden:
- Get your doctor’s okay before starting new routines or activities
- Warm up and stretch before you work in your garden.
- Remember: moderation is the key, if you’re unused to gardening chores
- Work up to being active for at least 30 minutes, 3-5 days a week, for best results
- Lift properly, using your legs, not your back.
- Bend from your knees and hips when picking up tools.
- Vary your activities. Rake one day, rest, and weed another day.
- Include aerobic activities to benefit your heart and lungs.
- Use a cushion under your knees if you do a lot of kneeling.
- Listen to your body, and don’t push through pain that may be causing harm.
- Cool down slowly when you’re finished in your garden, and stretch out.
- If you live where the winters are too cold to garden, consider a daily walk until you can resume your regular chores.
Image at top of page: Shutterstock/Dmitrjis Dmitrijevs