Gardening for physical health

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Gardening for physical health

It’s common knowledge that gardening is good for you, and not just because of the obvious fresher, better tasting fruits and vegetables to eat. In terms of physical activity, gardening is a winner too! There is plenty of research to support the belief that gardening rates with moderate to strenuous forms of exercise like walking and biking, depending on the task you’re doing and for how long. Like any other form of exercise, you have to be active for at least 30 minutes for there to be a benefit.

To get the best from your activity, use as little machinery as possible – hedge clippers instead of an electric trimmer, a broom or rake instead of a leave blower or hose, and if you’re really keen a push mower for the lawn. The garden could be your new gym!

There are exercises in the gym which have equivalents in the garden. For example

  1. Lifting weights = turning compost or digging the garden and in 30 minutes of activity a woman can burn 150 calories, a man 195.
  2. Using a rowing machine = raking the lawn or sweeping the yard – women 120 calories, men 155 in 30 minutes.
  3. Walking on a treadmill = pushing the lawn mower or a wheelbarrow – 135 calories burned for women and 175 for men.


Raking tones the upper arms and increases flexibility and strength. Heavier work like cutting and clearing can be as beneficial as an aerobics class. Try to use both sides of the body for increased dexterity and flexibility, for example, when sweeping use the broom with the right arm first then switch to the left to work both arms.

Gardening works all the major muscle groups since lots of stretching, pulling and lifting is involved (reaching to prune or pick, bending to plant and weed, digging to turn and mix). Additionally, all gardening action is smooth and low impact so there is a lower chance of injury and wear and tear of muscles and bones.

In fact research suggests gardening for just 30 minutes daily will help increase flexibility, strengthen joints, decrease blood pressure and cholesterol levels, lower the risk of developing diabetes and heart disease and is the best way to prevent osteoporosis as it involves lots of weight-bearing exercise. Those who garden regularly have been found to have higher bone density than those who opt for other exercise like jogging, swimming and dancing.

Start your gardening session with a few warm up and stretching exercises. Ease yourself into the task and work at a steady pace. Vary your work by changing position, move between tasks, and alternate which hands you use. Take regular breaks for a drink and to stretch.

Gardening might not replace all your chosen physical activity but the health benefits are an added bonus to an activity we do for pleasure anyway.


First published in Kiwi Gardener issue 447. Written by NGINZ. Reproduced with permission of Kiwi Gardener.