We certainly feel like we’ve put in a good day’s work, after gardening for hours on end. But is gardening really considered good exercise? For the most part, yes. According to the University of Virginia, gardening rates up there with other moderate to strenuous forms of exercise, like walking and bicycling. It all depends on what gardening task you are doing and for how long. Like any other form of exercise, you have to be active for at least 30 minutes for there to be a benefit.
What Makes It 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 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 to 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 at the same time.
More Health Benefits
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
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 a garden for the pleasure, after all. Getting in shape and losing weight is just the icing on the cake.
- Gardening for Exercise, Iowa State University Extension
- Gardening Really Is Good Exercise, Virginia Tech Virginia Cooperative Extension (No longer online)