Gardening For Fitness

The secret to a great workout can be in your garden

Can you count gardening as exercise? Yes, you absolutely can. It may not come to your mind as an effective way to get an aerobic workout, but research shows that if you regularly work at common gardening tasks, you can receive the same health benefits as with more “traditional” exercise programs. If you think intentionally, you can do garden work and achieve substantial aerobic and cardiovascular benefits, so take another look at the dirt in that garden and think about digging in!

And, best of all, digging in your own garden requires no annoying membership fees. Because the purpose of gardening is more than just doing exercise, it’s much easier to maintain your program. You have flowers, vegetables, and a lawn to care for. It’s more than just reaping the benefits of what you’re growing; it’s actually a great workout for your body as well. Don’t forget, if you’ve got a garden, then you probably already eat lots of good, fresh vegetables, and that’s also a critical factor in your overall health. 

It’s OK to begin slowly. But keep in mind that most guidelines advise that about 150 minutes per week of moderate aerobic exercise offers significant health benefits across all age groups, genders, and races. That works out to just a half hour daily, but if you can get your heart really pumping for about 10 minutes per session, which is enough to increase your breathing and begin breaking a sweat, you will be on your way to meeting that weekly goal. 

Adding a little resistance training and muscle building a few times a week, especially for women over 45, you’ve completely covered your cardio requirement. 

Warm up, and cool down

It’s no different than if you were in the gym. You need to take a few moments to warm up before gardening, because you need to think about it as a workout. This is also a good time to make sure you’ve put on your sunscreen and a hat. Now, stretch, so your body is in alignment. Do a few deep breaths, some toe touches, and roll your shoulders backwards and forwards. And when you’re done, try using a foam roller or a tennis ball to massage your back, hamstrings, or other sore muscles. 

Puttering in the garden is real exercise. Here’s why:

  • All your major muscle groups are engaged—your arms, your legs, your back, abdomen, and shoulders. Using these muscles also benefits your mobility, your endurance, and your balance. 
  • Digging, planting, plowing, raking, and weeding are all exercise. They burn plenty of calories, comparable to playing golf, walking or even dancing. 

Here are some common gardening tasks that can help you accomplish your fitness goals:

  • Planting seedlings or raking your lawn burns about 150 calories in 30 minutes. Try this: Get into a lunge position and pull. That engages your core, and that’s a more efficient exercise than standing and raking with just your arms. 
  • Weeding for 30 minutes burns about 170 calories. Crawl on your hands and knees, or work from a squatting position. Or, if you’re pulling weeds in a lunge position, you’re building upper and lower body strength. Throw in some push-ups or planks to strengthen your core even more.
  • Digging and spading garden soil burns about 190 calories per half hour, and it combines the weightlifting element with the aerobics.
  • Mowing the lawn burns 205 calories in 30 minutes. Give your riding lawnmower a vacation and get those steps in. 

Build muscle strength and burn calories

  • Carrying a two-gallon watering can weighs over 16 pounds. Lift up slightly and work your biceps and shoulders. One set of eight with 12 repetitions is all you need, and if you can do more sets, so much the better. 
  • When you purchase flats of flowers, bring them into your yard one flat at a time. Now you’re carrying  weight, and you’re adding more steps. 
  • When mowing your lawn, increase the mower’s pace, or switch to a push mower. 
  • Lifting and carrying heavy bags of soil is a great upper body and core workout. Lifting activates your glutes and quads, just like the strength training you might do at a gym.
  • Count your steps. You can use any number of step-counting apps on your phone to measure the distances you’re walking throughout your workout. Your steps from the garage to the end of your yard, when added up, can be significant to your daily goal of 10,000 steps. 
  • Moving heavy rocks or pavers improve the tone of your arms and legs, as well as strengthen your core.

All kinds of rewards

If you start thinking of gardening as workouts, you’ll start seeing benefits everywhere—in your yard, on your dinner table, and in your mind and body. Did you know 40% of Americans are deficient in vitamin D? That’s because they sit inside and work, instead of getting outdoors in the sun. If you work in the yard, you’ll increase your vitamin D levels the most efficient and most natural way—exposure to the sun. Your bones and muscles, which you’re toning and strengthening, will appreciate it. Most of all, when you’re gardening, you’re getting the physical activity that improves endurance, strength, balance, and flexibility. Your outdoor space will be beautiful, and your body will thank you for the rest of your long, healthy life.

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