Let's Get Physical: June 6 is National Gardening Exercise Day

Looking for a heart-healthy, muscle-strengthening workout that saves you the high cost of gym membership, spares you from being surrounded by people who look ripped from the pages of a fitness magazine, and avoids the possible trauma of facing down your own reflection in a floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall mirror?

Look no further than your own backyard.

Gardening can give you the benefits of a routine exercise plan, without feelings of inadequacy or breaking the bank on branded Lycra crop tops and leggings. And even if you’re in such good shape you could put The Rock or Gal Gadot to shame, gardening is still a great way to get outside and stay active while also helping to improve air and water quality, mitigate climate change, and support biodiversity.

With that in mind, sometime in the 1990s (or maybe the 1970s or 80s), somewhere in the U.S., an individual or, perhaps, a garden club, came up with the idea of promoting gardening as part of the health, wellness, and environmental movement.

Through gardening, people would be able to connect with nature, enjoy the physical and mental health benefits of getting their hands dirty in the soil, and improve strength, flexibility, and cardiovascular capacity. 

Despite the mystery surrounding its origins, we know the concept stuck. June 6 became National Gardening Exercise Day, a light-hearted reminder that gardening and caring for yourself and the planet can go hand-in-hand. 

 A workout for every body

Obviously, there’s no one-to-one analog between working in the yard and putting in time at the gym. A rowing machine might strengthen your core, but it won’t ensure uniform planting; you can’t do 10 jumping Jack-in-the-pulpits (Arisaema triphyllum) and burn many calories. 

But, as anyone who’s lugged 40-pound bags of potting soil from the car to the yard can attest, gardening definitely promotes fitness. In fact, gardening engages multiple muscle groups at once, giving you a head-to-toe exercise session.  

Raking and weeding involve repetitive motions that work your core, shoulders, and arms. And if you squat or kneel while weeding, you’ll strengthen every lower body muscle group: quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and calves.

And because squatting puts stress on your bones, it can increase bone density over time, potentially reducing the risk of osteoporosis later in life. (Hmm. Maybe we should be more grateful for weeds than we are.)

The repetitive movements associated with planting and pruning works your shoulders, arms, and upper back. Using hand pruners, shears, or loppers requires gripping and squeezing motions, which strengthen your forearms, wrists, and hands. Digging holes engages your shoulders, arms and core while tamping down the soil provides upper body conditioning. 

And then there’s the heavy lifting involved in moving equipment, bags of mulch and compost, and hefty clay, stone, and ceramic pots. That can tone your arms, legs, and core.

Perhaps the best part is that, unlike high-impact exercises such as running, burpees, or actual jumping jacks, gardening is generally gentler on your joints. That means it’s suitable for people of all ages and all fitness levels. 

Celebrate safely

Aside from the physical advantages of gardening, it’s also good for your mental well-being. Spending time in nature has proven to reduce stress and anxiety. And when you see your plants flourish or get to bite into homegrown vegetables, you may feel just as proud and accomplished as if you’d run a longer distance on the treadmill or reached your body fat target. 

While there’s no specific way to celebrate National Gardening Exercise Day, here are a few suggestions:

  • Spend an afternoon weeding, planting, or tending to your existing garden.
  • Challenge yourself with physically demanding gardening tasks. Raking not strenuous enough for you? Maybe today’s the day you’ll build that stone wall.
  • Incorporate stretches or light cardio exercises into your gardening routine.

Just remember: Like any other exercise, it’s possible to overdo it when working in your garden. To avoid injury:

  • Warm up first and cool down afterward. 
  • Vary your tasks. Alternating between digging, weeding, planting, and carrying heavy objects is the best way to engage multiple muscle groups. Plus, If you focus on just one activity all day, you’re more like to tire out or even experience a repetitive motion injury. 
  • Work at a brisk pace to elevate your heart rate and maximize calorie burn but know your limits and when to take a break.
  • Use proper form while digging, lifting, and carrying objects. Engaging your core muscles improves stability and helps you avoid injuries.
  • Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water before, during, and after gardening. On hot days, drink even more. 

Regardless of how it started or when or where, National Gardening Exercise Day is a great way to highlight gardening as a hobby and bring its often-overlooked health benefits to the fore.

Too bad giving your wallet a workout at the garden shop doesn’t count as exercise. 

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