But just how healthy is gardening?
Let’s take a look.
Can gardening be considered exercise?
The American Heart Association considers gardening a moderate exercise along with
- brisk walking (at least 2.5 miles per hour)
- water aerobics
- dancing (ballroom or social)
- tennis (doubles)
- biking slower than 10 miles per hour
Can gardening improve emotional health?
There is more and more research and data showing the emotional benefits of gardening.
The mere act of being in nature has health benefits.
One study conducted in Japan showed a 12 percent decrease in cortisol levels, a 7 percent decrease in sympathetic nerve activity, and a 6 percent decrease in heart rate, along with a better mood overall by taking a walk in the woods. Those that walked in the city showed no improvement.
New research regarding the science of awe shows that being in nature can help us feel more empathetic and compassionate to others, make us better listeners, and feel more connected to our community and others.
I find gardening to be a very spiritual practice. Watching seedlings push their little green heads out of the soil. Observing the dragonflies that love to perch on my bamboo stakes. The smell of the tomato plants on my hands after I have pruned them. Feeling the warm sun on my skin.
So, yes, I do experience awe frequently when I am in my garden. The magic of it. The miraculous event of plants growing and producing beauty and food. Then dying, decomposing, and starting all over again. It reminds me how fragile and awesome life is.
What are the health benefits of gardening?
Working in the garden restores dexterity and can burn just as many calories as you would from a gym workout. Raking, mowing, digging are great calorie burners.
A meta-Analysis: The impact of gardening on nutrition and physical health outcomes: a systematic review and meta-analysis – PubMed (nih.gov) suggests that gardening has a significant effect on the reduction of Body Mass Index(BMI).
A study performed by the University of Arkansas linked gardening to the prevention of osteoporosis. They found that women over the age of 50 who gardened at least once a week showed higher bone density readings than those who performed other types of exercise like walking, jogging, swimming, and aerobics.
Physical endurance, strength, balance, and flexibility
Associate director of the Horticultural Therapy Program at Rutgers University School of Environmental and Biological Sciences, Gary Altman, M.S., CRC, HTR states that gardening utilizes all four types of exercise: endurance, strength, balance, and flexibility. He explains that it can be much more vigorous than people realize.
Gardening works all major muscle groups including arms, shoulders, neck, back, abdomen, legs, and glutes.
How to make your gardening a real workout
Warm up before you get out there and start pulling weeds. Gardening is a workout, and if you don’t warm up first, you are likely to cause yourself an injury. It is imperative to warm up your muscles before gardening, just as it is before weight lifting or any other type of exercise. Here is a great warm-up routine that will not take up a lot of time but will help minimize injury and post garden workout soreness.
2. Range of Motion
Increase range of motion(ROM). When raking, hoeing, or shoveling, use larger swipes so that you are reaching farther forward and pulling in closer as opposed to short movements. This increases flexibility and ROM, as well as burning more calories.
Use both sides of the body equally. We tend to use our dominant side only when working. When you use gardening as a workout, you want to make sure you are providing equal push and pull with your non-dominant limb. For example, if you rake or hoe for 5 minutes with your right arm in front, then you want to rake for another 5 minutes with your left arm in front. Do this for all your activities.
When raking, hoeing, weeding, or anything that requires bending, use your legs to go into a lunge. Remember to avoid extending your knee past your foot to prevent injury to your knees. Make sure you do both legs equally.
5. Squat stance
Many cultures continue to use the natural modality of resting. The natural squat. This is where our butt sinks below our hips while our feet rest flat on the ground. Unfortunately, the invention of chairs and the fact that most Americans are attached to them all day cause the natural squat to feel uncomfortable. The natural squat stance increases flexibility strengthens several muscles and joints, opens the hips, and stretches the groin muscles. Look for opportunities to hold yourself into a natural squat. You can do this while weeding, pruning, planting, and picking your produce.
As a side note, not related to gardening, squatting is considered the best way to defecate, according to a published article in the Journal of Education and Health Promotion. According to research, squatting during defecation can decrease the potential for irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, appendicitis, and even colon cancer. It helps prevent hernias, pelvic organ prolapse, and hemorrhoids. The reason is due to the colon being supported by the thighs, which minimize straining. There is a whole new “movement” in the #2 business. You can buy your own squatty Potty right here. Who knew there is a better way to poop?
This tends to happen naturally when gardening but try to use this time in the garden to be mindful of The Now, The Present. If you find yourself thinking about all the other things you need to do, or worrying about things, or thinking of past events, try to bring yourself back to the garden. Observe the beauty around you, the smells, the insects, the sounds. Bask in it. Allow yourself to feel the awe. This is a great time to allow gratitude for all you have and who you are. Feel the blood flowing to your muscles as you work. Enjoy the moment.
When you have finished your gardening workout, remember to stretch. Here are 5 stretches that won’t take forever. Let’s face it when you come in from gardening, you want to shower and put up all that beautiful produce you picked. Another great option is to take this time for your yoga practice. Doing yoga outdoors brings a whole new dimension to our practice. Consider not using a mat. Make sure you have a nice patch of grass that’s free of stones or any other debris that could hurt you. Emerging scientific evidence is uncovering the surprising physical benefits of earthing. Proponents believe our physical connection to the Earth with our bare hands or feet allows us to receive electrons that provide “grounding.” These benefits range from improving sleep, decreasing pain, and lowering stress.
“Mounting evidence suggests that the Earth’s negative potential can create a stable internal bioelectrical environment for the normal functioning of all body systems. Moreover, oscillations of the intensity of the Earth’s potential may be important for setting the biological clocks regulating diurnal body rhythms, such as cortisol secretion.”
The great thing about a gardening workout is the feeling of accomplishment. Looking out at your garden, knowing you are creating something useful and beautiful. Sensing the muscles in your body that were worked and will grow stronger and more flexible. Knowing you have been absorbing vitamin D, fresh air, and connecting with nature.
I honestly can’t think of a better workout. Can you?