We all know we need to exercise, full stop. Adults in Scotland spend on average more than five and a half hours a day sedentary according to research from The British Heart Foundation. There is now an overwhelming body of research which points to the physical and mental benefits of gardening so let’s not ignore it but look to the garden as our gym.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), moderate-intensity level activity for 2.5 hours each week can reduce the risk factors for obesity, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, heart disease, stroke, depression, colon cancer and premature death. The CDC considers gardening a moderate-intensity level activity that can help you to achieve that 2.5 hour goal each week. Those that choose gardening as their exercise are more likely to exercise 40-50 minutes longer on average than those that choose activities like walking or biking.
A study carried out by scientists from Kansas State University found that regular energetic gardening provides the same positive health benefits as exercise programmes like jogging or swimming. The best thing about gardening is that unlike an hour on treadmill, it doesn’t feel like exercise and all the studies point to the fact that adults are less likely to give up compared with conventional exercise routines because they found gardening more interesting with different tasks to perform as the seasons changed. There is also the added benefit that we can eat what we grow or sit back and enjoy the pleasures of all that physical activity.
As if we need more evidence, regular gardeners are 30% less likely to have falls than other adults as physical exercise helps with maintaining balance.
Additionally, it is thought that one in five adults do not get enough vitamin D as they do not spend enough time outside. Vitamin D increases our calcium levels, which benefits our bones and immune system. Outdoor activities like gardening are a perfect way to get your sunshine and exercise quota at the same time – and we all love a bit of multi-tasking!
Unlike many everyday physical activities which only involve the arms, gardening uses the whole body and calls on all the major muscles in the back, legs and abdominal area. Gardening tasks like pushing a lawn mower, which in itself burns 300 calories an hour, digging holes and pulling weeds use muscle groups all over the body and provide a good general work out in an outdoor setting. Constantly bending down and stretching up when you are gardening helps keep joints supple. Lifting bags of grass cuttings or compost can produce benefits akin to weight training. Raking up leaves works wonders for upper body strength and makes you sweat. Stretching, pushing, pulling and lifting will work multiple muscles at one time, improve the quality of your overall fitness level and help with strength, stamina, and flexibility.
Experts recommend planning your gardening time to include and alternate between, a variety of movements which will vary the muscles used and offer you a balanced workout but most gardeners will naturally vary activities anyway as part of the routine jobs which need doing. To make the most of your gardening for health benefits, do a full range of activities, incorporating endurance, flexibility, dexterity, and strength:
- Alternate light and heavy activities such as digging, pruning, planting, and watering.
- Incorporate garden tasks such as raking, mowing, weeding, hoeing, wheeling wheelbarrows and cutting hedges.
- Exaggerate movements to increase range of motion.
- Move with the tool, don’t over-stretch if you cannot comfortably reach something.
- Switch hands and change stance to use muscles on both sides of the body.
- Use manual rather than electric tools.
Time to grab those tools and head out to your outside gym for an all-over workout and plenty of fresh air!