Trimming Your Garden and Your Figure

by Karen Weiland, Master Gardener

Many gardeners spend hours reading and researching how to make a healthier, more beautiful and productive garden.  But have you ever given any thought to how gardening can produce a healthier you?  I think the idea of gardening for exercise is one of the best kept secrets.  I enjoy it, it’s free and it’s right outside my back door.  Try to think of turning compost as lifting weights, raking as using a rowing machine and push mowing the lawn as using a treadmill.  We don’t need any expensive exercise machines.  A gardeners exercise machines are post-hole diggers, shovels, rakes, wheelbarrows and push lawn mowers.

Gardening has more health benefits than just growing your own fruits and vegetables.  Because many people do not think of gardening as exercise it is best to warm up and stretch those muscles before you start. It is also a good idea to stretch when you are finished gardening to prevent soreness and loss of flexibility.  Gardening uses all the major muscle groups in the body.  Your back, arms, neck, shoulders, legs, abs and buttocks all get a good workout.  The good news for gardeners is that 30 minutes of daily gardening can lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, prevents or slows osteoporosis, helps prevent diabetes and heart disease, it increases ones flexibility and strengthens joints.

Of course, for the safety and health of your back and knees certain precautions need to be taken.  If you spend time on your knees use a cushion and stretch your legs about every 10 minutes or so.  Do not overload your shovel.  Bend at the knee and take a step as you discard each shovel full of dirt.  When picking up items such as tools or plants be sure to bend at the knees and hips.  You may want to consider wearing ear plugs to protect your hearing when using some power tools for prolonged periods.

Many gardening chores burn fat.  The number of calories you burn depends on the type and intensity of the activity and your weight.  Here is a list of calories that can be burned by a 185 pound person during gardening activities performed in 30 minutes:  bagging grass or leaves – 178, walking behind a snow thrower – 200,  push mowing the lawn – 244, weeding – 205, digging or spading dirt – 222,  raking the lawn – 178 and planting seedlings and shrubs – 178.   More information about calories burned can be found at Harvard Health Publications.  So while you are out there push mowing the lawn in 80 degree weather you will not have to feel guilty about that ice cream cone you will be having afterward.

The beginning of the gardening season does not have to include sore muscles and an aching back if you practice an exercise routine daily throughout the winter months.

Gardening to me is a great way to divert my mind from everyday work, conflicts or other issues.  It relieves stress and provides some mental relaxation.  It’s not just your body/muscles that will benefit.  There are psychological benefits of spending time outdoors, working in the sunshine and fresh air. Gardening keeps the brain busy by providing new plants, flowers and techniques that need to be learned about.  Tending to a garden satisfies the human instinct to nurture and care, so not only is gardening good for the physical body it is also good for our spiritual and mental well being.

While some people enjoy working out in a gym, working out in your garden can bring you satisfaction in reaping the rewards of a beautiful garden, make you healthier and happier.  When you are finished with your “gardening workout” take a few minutes to cool down with a few stretches while taking in the sweet aroma of your flowers.


As always, Happy Gardening!

More information about gardening and related subjects is available at Purdue University.  The Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service can be reached at 499-6334 in LaGrange Co., 636-2111 in Noble Co., 925-2562 in DeKalb Co. and 668-1000 in Steuben Co.