Gardening for Physical Activity

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An adult male with an adolescent boy gardening in a raised garden bed.

Gardening is a hobby that I enjoy. My husband and I grow many vegetables, fruits, and herbs at our house, and I enjoy trying to nurture some favorite flowering annuals each year. My mom, dad, grandfather, even my toddler also enjoying gardening; it is a family pastime.

I love gardening for many reasons, but mostly because it is a fun way to get everyone outside and moving! Gardening is a form of exercise! Although it might not always be classified as a “moderate-vigorous” intensity workout, there are still many ways that gardening can boost our physical health.

Moderate intensity work can be reached depending on the activity. When we are dragging loads of mulch, digging, or raking our heart rate increases and breathing can become labored. Both of which can be a sign that we are engaging in moderately vigorous physical activity. These intense movements incorporate large muscle groups in the upper and lower body and work to build strength. Weeding might not increase our heart rate significantly but it helps to improve our grip strength, which is critical as we get older. There are many times that our flexibility is challenged in the garden. Bending down to plant plants, pull weeds, or trying to maneuver a plant into just the right spot can make our body bend and twist, sometimes even holding these positions, giving us a good stretch. Moving from sitting to standing is often a more efficient way to garden. The practice of getting up and down multiple times builds strength and mobility in muscles and joints that we might not utilize during other daily activities.

A few tips for increasing your physical activity and comfort in the garden:

  • Try using manual tools instead of electric or gas-powered equipment.
  • Make sure you have a cushion for your knees when kneeling on the ground.
  • Bend at your hips and knees when stooping to the ground.
  • If getting on the ground, bending, or stooping isn’t an option, invest in some tools with long handles to help you do the work standing or while seated in a chair.
  • Using a wheelbarrow can increase your activity by pushing heavy loads while saving your back from dragging them without a wheelbarrow.  
  • Stretch before starting so that you’ll be ready to bend, stretch and lift whatever you need to while you are gardening.
  • Garden energetically instead of puttering around, this keeps your heart rate up and increases your activity intensity.
  • Wear your sunscreen and a hat!

Gardening, and being outside in general, can be good for your physical health but also mental health. Relax, get active and have fun!

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