Gardening is the world’s best kept exercise secret, but that’s changing.
Recent medical studies have documented what backyard enthusiasts have known for years: Gardening is good for us and it’s a great way to achieve and maintain physical fitness.
Regular garden chores can burn anywhere from 120 to 200 calories per 30 minutes, depending on the intensity of the activity. That’s just as good as jogging or any other intense physical exercise and you’re likely to become engrossed and spend hours planting, weeding and watering for hours at a time rather than jogging for just a half hour or so.
Turning compost is essentially lifting weights. Raking is like using a rowing machine. Pushing the mower is similar to walking on a treadmill with an upper body workout as a bonus.
Gardeners’ exercise machines are post hole diggers, shovels, rakes, push mowers and wheelbarrows. Our running track is the yard and garden and I get to do it all of this in my own beautiful mountain setting. I freely confess to taking frequent “beauty breaks” during my gardening adventures.
Gardening uses all major muscle groups, the muscles that do most of the calorie burning in the human body. Legs, buttocks, shoulders, stomach, arms, neck and back all get a workout. It also increases flexibility and strengthens joints. A study by the National Osteoporosis Foundation found that gardening rates among the very best forms of physical exercise for building bone density. Only weight training rated better at building and maintain stronger bones. Researchers correlate movements performed while gardening- pushing, pulling, carrying, turning, lifting, squatting - with weight bearing exercises.
Now don’t feel that you have to “go for the burn” exercise in the garden every time. Modify the program to meet your individual needs. Warm up muscles before starting. Stretching legs, arms, back, neck and even hands and feet before you garden will help relieve back strain and muscle soreness and help to avoid injury. It’s good to stretch again after activity, then a cool down session like walking or picking flowers or just sitting quietly and admiring your garden.
Ways to maximize health benefits:
1. Use a push mower instead of a rider. If your lawn is too big to cut without a rider, set
aside a portion of your lawn for a push mower.
2. Count the minutes. Make sure that the total daily time you spend on garden activities adds up to 30 minutes. If you’ve been inactive, build up to the 30 minutes. Then go for an hour.
3. Lunge and Weed. Using a hand weeder, lunge with one leg bent at the knee
In front of you and one leg straight back behind you.
4. Bend one leg, knee to the ground, keep the other foot flat. Use a hand tool.
5. Squat with both feet flat on the ground. (Don’t do this if you have knee problems.)
6. Kneel on a soft pad. Use a hand tool.
7. When you’re raking or hoeing, bend your knees rather than your back, and use legs, shoulders
and arms in a rocking motion,. Change stances frequently. Alternating your stance balances the muscles used.
9. Dig holes. Digging and shoveling are big calorie burners, (250 to 350 calories per
10. Make a compost pile. Turning compost burns 250 to 300 calories per 30 minutes
11. Listen to your muscles. Pay attention to the muscles that are working for you, as
well as to your exertion levels. Stop before you get sore.
Here are the typical calories burned in 30 minutes of common activities:
Sitting quietly: 40
Watering lawn or garden: 61
Mowing the lawn (riding): 101
Trimming shrubs (power): 142
Bagging leaves: 162
Planting seedlings: 162
Mowing (with push mower): 182
Planting trees: 182
Trimming shrubs (manual): 182
Clearing land: 202
Digging, spading, tilling: 202
Laying sod: 202
General gardening: 202
Chopping wood: 243
Gardening with heavy power tools: 243
Key points to remember:
• Avoid all-day marathon gardening sessions on weekends (space it out).
• Always bend you’re your knees, rather than from your back.
• Alternate your stance and motion as often as possible.
• Above all: Enjoy!