You know gardening can provide you with fresh, nutritious produce and that time outside in the fresh air can be a boost in mood and help clear the mind. In fact, a recent research review showed that nature-based interventions, including gardening, have multiple mental health benefits including improvement of depressive mood and reducing anxiety. These benefits extend to those with pre-existing mental health concerns.
But, did you know your garden can also be a great place to exercise?
With a little planning, you can get a workout that includes endurance, flexibility, and strength all right in your own backyard. Jeff Restuccio, author of Fitness the Dynamic Gardening Way and first-degree black belt, suggests planning your gardening so that it becomes a structured exercise routine.
How Can You Garden and Get A Workout?
Restuccio gives a few suggestions1 to help you get started:
- Warm up (5-10 minutes of slow movements similar to wake up muscle groups)
- Stretching (5-10 minutes to loosen legs, hips, shoulders, and neck to help prevent soreness and injury)
- Alternate light & strenuous activities (i.e. rake for a bit, then dig holes, then prune)
- Focus on your range of motion
- Step up and down (Utilize patio steps or deck stairs as you move from one area of your garden to another)
- Stay moving (once you start, keep a steady pace – doesn’t have to be fast, especially if you are just starting out)
- After 15-20 minutes, stretch again (your muscles will be warmed up and you may notice a slight increase in range of motion)
- Cool down (walk around, enjoy the sights and smells of your garden)
In another WebMD article2, Sandra Mason who works as an extension educator in horticulture and environment at the University of Illinois, reminds new gardeners to use proper lifting technique. When lifting heavy bags of material, remember to use your legs. Then, rather than twisting while holding the heavy load, move your feet. Not only can this help protect your back, it increases the cardio benefit of the task.
Gardening Activities Prove to be Popular and Effective
University of Arkansas researchers took a comprehensive look at the effects of exercise on older women. Using data from National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey – a dataset collected by the National Center for Health Statistics, researchers compared frequency of various activities, including yard work, calisthenics, bicycling, dancing, aerobics, swimming, jogging, walking and weight training with bone mass of over 3,000 subject aged 50 and older. They found that bicycling, aerobics, dancing, yard work and weight training were linked to higher levels of mineral density. However, further analysis for each activity individually, revealed that only yard work and weight training were significant for maintaining healthy bone mass. Of those two, yard work was the most popular. In addition to the weight-bearing motions, (digging, pulling, pushing, etc), because it’s performed outdoors, gardeners are exposed to sunlight, boosting their body’s vitamin D production. Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium, giving the workout an extra bone strengthening boost.
As with any exercise, stretching is a key component to help prevent injury and increase flexibility. A list of stretches geared toward the movements you will use when gardening is offered in the Health Tips for Gardening issue of CHIROHEALTH3:
- For all types of stretching, it’s important to remember to not bounce or jerk your body, and stretch as far and as comfortably as you can. Do not follow the “no pain, no gain” rule. Stretching should not be painful.
- While sitting, prop your heel on a stool or step, keeping the knees straight or bent slightly so as not to strain your lower back. Lean forward until you feel a stretch in the back of the thigh or the hamstring muscle. Hold this position for 15 seconds. Do this once more and repeat with the other leg.
- Stand up, hold onto something for balance, and grab the front of your ankle from behind. Pull your heel toward your buttocks and hold the position for 15 seconds. Do this again and repeat with the other leg.
- While standing, weave your fingers together and extend your arms above your head with your palms up. Lean to one side for 10 seconds, then to the other. Repeat this stretch three times.
- Wrap your arms around yourself, giving yourself a hug, and rotate to one side, stretching as far as you can comfortably go. Hold for 10 seconds and reverse. Repeat two or three times.
So Just HOW MUCH exercise can you REALLY get in the garden?
While most “official counts” say gardening burns 100-200 calories, per hour, Restuccio says by concentrating on deep breathing, range of motion and exaggerating the motions, you can reach up to 500 calories per hour. While actual calories burned will vary from person to person based on size, fitness level and other factors, Charlie Nardozzi, horticulturist at the National Gardening Association in South Burlington, Vt., offers the following estimates of calories burned by a 180 pound individual in 30 minutes of performing these gardening tasks:
Of course, you will need to take typical precautions before beginning a new workout, even, if it is in your own backyard. Don’t underestimate the power of those stretches. And don’t get too carried away. Work 30-60 minutes and stop. You wouldn’t start out with a 2-hour aerobics class. Ease into gardening as a workout, to enjoy it for the long-term.
Make it a Group Effort for Added Benefits
Want an extra benefit? Partner with a friend or join a gardening group! An Australian survey examined the relationships between gardening and older adults’ psychosocial and physical well-being, and attitudes to aging. The group of 331 gardeners, aged 60-95 years, reported numerous benefits from leisure gardening. Specifically, their positive aging self-perceptions were improved. Group membership was found to help stave off loneliness and feelings of isolation. These were particularly important for those experiencing times of change, such as retirement.
If you have questions regarding your fitness and flexibility levels, talk to your chiropractor at your next visit. He or she will be able to advise you regarding your personal health and any extra precautions you may need to take. If warm up and cool down stretches are not sufficient to prevent sore muscles, cold packs for short periods of time may help for the first few days, then you can switch to warm packs. If the pain continues, schedule an appointment with your chiropractor.
Spinal manipulation and other non-pharmaceutical treatments used by chiropractors can help relieve the pain while reducing or eliminating the need for pain medications. Additionally, your chiropractor may help you with modifications to the motions that caused the pain or other stretches/exercises to help speed healing and prevent re-injury.
- Sorgen C. “Get Fit In the Garden”. WebMD Archives.
- Lawrence S. “Get Fit by Gardening”. WebMD Feature. Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on March 12, 2006.
- Health Tips for Gardening. American Chiropractic Association. Accessed 4/17/2023
- Coventry PA, Brown JE, Pervin J, Brabyn S, Pateman R, Breedvelt J, Gilbody S, Stancliffe R, McEachan R, White PL. Nature-based outdoor activities for mental and physical health: Systematic review and meta-analysis. SSM Popul Health. 2021 Oct 1;16:100934. doi: 10.1016/j.ssmph.2021.100934. PMID: 34646931; PMCID: PMC8498096.
- Scott TL, Masser BM, Pachana NA. Positive aging benefits of home and community gardening activities: Older adults report enhanced self-esteem, productive endeavours, social engagement and exercise. SAGE Open Med. 2020 Jan 22;8:2050312120901732. doi: 10.1177/2050312120901732. PMID: 32030127; PMCID: PMC6977207.
- Turner Lori, Hogge Allison, Got Weeds? University Of Arkansas Researchers Say Yard Work Builds Strong Bones. University of Arkansas News. April 10, 2000. https://news.uark.edu/articles/10028/got-weeds-university-of-arkansas-researchers-say-yard-work-builds-strong-bones Accessed 4/17/2023