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Why Gardening Is Good For Your Health

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Why Gardening Is Good For Your Health… There so many benefits to getting your sweat on outside in the garden! Benefits that go way beyond the calories burnt on a treadmill.

Americans spend a whopping 2.6 billion dollars a year on gym memberships. Clearly, most people want to get fit, which is an admirable goal, but with the average cost of a gym memberships hovering around $60 a month and with 67% of people who own gym memberships never using them, maybe there’s another way to do it.

Well, my friend, there is, and it might surprise you because, not only can you get a great workout, but it doesn’t require you to drive across town, hire a babysitter or buy overpriced yoga pants. Plus,  you get tomatoes. That’s right, instead of going to the gym you might want to consider going to your garden.

Let Your Garden Be Your Gym

Gardening might just be the world’s best-kept exercise secret. It’s like going to the gym for free while beautifying your yard and growing delicious and healthy things to eat. It might surprise you to learn that gardening is considered a moderate to high-intensity workout hitting all the major muscle groups. This includes muscles in the legs, buttocks, arms, shoulders, neck, back and abdomen that build strength and burn the most calories. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, you can burn up to 330 calories during just one hour of light gardening and yard work which is equal to, or more than, bicycling, walking, or lifting weights for the same amount of time. The National Institute of Health goes so far as to recommend 30 to 45 minutes of gardening three to five times a week as part of a good fitness strategy.

Here’s an example of how different gardening chores compare to other physical activities:

  • 30 minutes of digging and shoveling burns about 150 calories, equivalent to riding a stationary bike at the gym for the same amount of time
  • 30 minutes of trimming shrubs burns about 182 calories, equivalent to vigorously lifting weights for the same amount of time
  • 30 minutes of raking leaves burns about 162 calories, equivalent to intermediate Pilates for the same amount of time 
  • 30 minutes of mowing the lawn burns about 182 calories, equivalent to low-impact aerobics for the same amount of time

Gardening is not only good at burning calories but also strengthens joints and increases flexibility because you’re constantly getting up and down, stretching, bending, and reaching to plant the seedlings or pull the weeds. And the health benefits increase from there. Just 30 minutes of daily gardening can help lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes and prevent or slow down osteoporosis.

Calories burned plus the benefit of fresh air and sunshine make your backyard gym seem like a great investment in your health and your pocketbook. Here are a few more reasons why…

You Won’t Ignore Your Garden Like You Ignore The Gym

As a pleasurable and goal-oriented outdoor activity, gardening has another advantage over other forms of exercise: people are more likely to stick with it and do it often. Since going to the gym is exercise for exercise’s sake, it can become tedious and it’s easy to lose motivation. Remember that 67% of people who own gym memberships never use them. Intention only goes so far when it comes to regularly working out.

Gardening, on the other hand, is exercise that has a context. It’s done with the purpose of making your yard beautiful or growing delicious food, not for the purpose of burning calories. So the exercise is just a bonus to an activity you were already doing. Since studies show that if you enjoy an exercise activity you’re more likely to keep doing it and do it often, gardening might be a better investment in your health than a pricey gym membership.

You’ll Own Your Own Smoothie Shop

Everyone knows that to reach optimal health, exercise is just one piece of the puzzle. What you put in your body is as important as how, and how often, you work out your body. And that may be the reason why your garden can become the best gym you’ve ever joined.

There’s no healthier superfood than a veggie pulled right out of your garden or a piece of fruit pulled right off your tree. Gardening allows you to choose organic fertilizers and natural pesticides or none at all. In your garden you can harvest foods at their peak, allowing them to accumulate nutrients that might otherwise be lost when foods are picked unripe for easier shipping. And when we put in the effort and work of choosing, growing, and harvesting our own fruits and vegetables, we’re likely to eat more of them.

Not surprisingly, several studies have shown that gardeners eat more fruits and vegetables than their peers. And gardeners and non-gardeners alike will agree that anything you grow in your garden is light-years ahead in taste and texture than any produce you buy in your local grocery store.

Imagine working out in your garden and then rewarding yourself with a delicious salad or smoothie with perfectly ripe produce you just pulled from the earth. Sure you can drop six or seven bucks at your local smoothie shop on the way home from the gym or you can just grab whatever looks good out of your garden and make a healthier and more delicious version right in your own kitchen.

Gardening Will Lower Stress

We all know that stress is hard on the body. Too much stress can cause everything from irritability to headaches to stomach aches and heart attacks while worsening pre-existing conditions. Being outside in nature and working in the garden can help. In one experiment conducted in the Netherlands, researchers compared gardening to reading for their effectiveness in relieving stress. Two groups of students were told to either read indoors or garden for thirty minutes after completing a stressful task. The group that gardened won hands-down as they reported being in a better mood than the group that read and they also exhibited lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

Other studies of older adults indicate horticultural therapy and garden settings might lessen stress, as well as reduce pain, improve attention, decrease the need for medication, and reduce falls. Still more studies point to the benefits of gardening to help people in a range of stressful health situations, including:

  • reduction of physical pain
  • dealing with physically challenging circumstances
  • rehabilitation or recovery from surgery or other medical procedures
  • learning to better cope with chronic conditions

The act of gardening can even enable a person to enter the “Zone”,  also known as an altered state of consciousness. It’s similar to what a runner (often called the “Runner’s High”) or one who practices yoga or meditation can experience. It’s best described as a feeling of prolonged euphoria coupled with reduced anxiety and a lessened ability to feel pain. 

How To Join The Garden Gym

Gardening requires strength, stamina, and flexibility, and looking through seed catalogs doesn’t count as your warm-up. Doing some simple stretching before and after your time in the garden is a good idea to help prevent injuries. As with any exercise program, start slowly and gradually increase the intensity of your activities. Maintain flexibility by regularly stretching lower back muscles and hamstrings, flexing hips and knees with lunges and strengthening abdominal muscles with crunches.

Choose properly sized tools with cushioned handles. Thicker grips give better leverage and put less pressure on joints. Wear gloves to protect against blisters or cuts, and don’t forget sunscreen and a wide-brimmed hat to avoid sun damage. And don’t forget to wear well-fitted, closed-toe shoes to protect feet against crushing injuries or puncture wounds. Rubber soles are recommended to provide traction and prevent slips and falls.

Try to garden in the morning or early evening to avoid the hottest times of the day, and no matter when you garden, drink plenty of water and take regular breaks. Work in 15-30 increments and then rest or change activities. if you start to experience dizziness, headache, nausea or fatigue, then immediately go into the house to cool off and rest.

If you curb the tendency to overdo it, gardening can be a fun, stress-relieving and healthy form of exercise. Plus, you get tomatoes.

Oh, and about those overpriced yoga pants? Maybe the best part about skipping the gym and starting a garden is that nobody is going to see you workout. You can wear whatever old, comfortable, ratty clothes you want. There’s even a World Naked Gardening Day if you want to eschew clothes altogether, although I personally wouldn’t recommend it, especially if you grow raspberries. OUCH!

(It’s always the first Saturday in May if you decide to throw caution to the wind.)

Follow Leah on Instagram @fabulousfarmgirl 


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