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  • Writer's pictureJackie

Is Gardening a Workout? YES

When I suggest people count bouts of yard work as workouts, they raise eyebrows. Really? Gardening is just a necessary chore (if you have manicured land) or a pleasant hobby, right? Sure, but also... Unless you’re sipping a cocktail from your lounge chair as you spray the hose at some plants, gardening “counts” as some serious physical activity.

This week, I overhauled our flower beds, digging edges, weeding & mulching, even clearing a brand new one. Wearing the heart rate monitor I don for daily workouts, I gathered proof—Yes, indeed, pulse & expended calories rivaled some of my steady state, moderate intensity exercise sessions. Further proof came when I worked out in addition to gardening and landed sacked out on the sofa, body demanding recovery. So, affirmative, yard work not only serves as exercise, it should be paced accordingly!

Before you grab the spade, let these specifics further motivate you.

Gardening burns calories.

How many calories, of course, depends on how rigorously you’re attacking that yard. One estimate suggests that in ‘attack mode,’ you could expend 400 an hour. Babying the beds? On the lower end, you’d burn about 200 an hour. (I averaged about 350-400 per hour, but again, I was wrestling Nature’s super Velcro, sod, out of the ground!)

You’ll buck sedentary patterns.

One of the greatest benefits of gardening comes from getting us out of our chairs. Sedentary lifestyle remains a threat to Americans’ health. An American Heart Association science advisory begins with the alarming statement, “Epidemiological evidence is accumulating that indicates greater time spent in sedentary behavior is associated with all-cause and cardiovascular morbidity and mortality in adult[s].” The medical community has been imploring us to engage in ANY physical activity. Garden away!

Gardening can improve functional fitness.

Think about the movements that gardening requires. We basically squat, lunge, perform twisting motions, walk, and carry or push “weights” in the form of tools, bags of mulch, wheelbarrows of soil, buckets of weeds, etc. In fact, if you garden frequently, you should train for these movement patterns in your strength training sessions, so that you’ll not only feel more comfortable, you’ll likely experience less injuries.

Nature’s balm works quietly on your spirit.

Most of us believe there’s “just something” about being outdoors that makes us feel better, and scientists have been pinpointing why. Check out the SomebodyStrong post called “Why You Should Workout Outdoors” for more specifics.

It’s an activity with a purpose, which motivates brain & body.

Our brains and bodies like a specific task. For example, if I told you to “brace your core,” you’d have to think for a second about how to make that happen. But if I said, “act like I’m about to punch you in the gut,” (I would NEVER!) your muscles would respond to that brain message lickety split. We are DESIGNED to move and to accomplish tasks. So, if chugging away on an elliptical, etc, is beginning to feel pointless, switch up your workout with some serious gardening.

You may just enjoy dose of sunshine.

Of course, that’s no guarantee here in western PA, but generally in spring & summer, we need to get outdoors and replenish our vitamin D stores via sunshine. You can do so with some foods & supplements, too, but if you’re outside anyway, you’ll reap this nutritional benefit.

Already an avid gardener or about to become one? Keep these general tips in mind.

  • Again, try to train for real world, functional movement patterns that involve squatting, lunging, pushing, pulling, and rotating.

  • Pace yourself as you would with workouts. (This is the same premise to be used for snow shoveling, too, as many, many people suffer cardiac events or muscle injuries during this unexpectedly intense activity.)

  • Stay hydrated. It’s the warmest time of year—or about to be. Dehydration can happen fast. Keep sipping as you work outside.

  • Wear sunscreen. We all know the woes of not doing so, even on those sneaky cloudy days.

  • Stretch afterward (and even consider foam rolling before). One mistake I often make is totally forgetting to stretch after I hike, garden, etc., probably because I too don’t always realize these activities are such a workout to the muscles & joints. But stretching is crucial in reducing delayed onset muscle soreness and risk of injury. Myofascial release, aka “foam rolling” is another fantastically beneficial practice to include.

So, if today’s to-do list includes both exercise and gardening, and you’re feeling a little burdened, combine them. Then sit back in the sunshine to admire your work!


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