In fact, an overwhelming 80% of gardeners says it helps them stay in shape, according to a survey commissioned by the Royal Horticultural Society. According to Guy Barter, Chief Horticulturist at the RHS ‘Gardening is a great outdoors activity to help keep you in shape and feeling good.’
What’s more, 70% surveyed say gardening helps tone forearms, half say the activity tones thighs, and nearly a third say it tones their bottom. It’s not just physically beneficial, but mentally rewarding as well, with half saying they felt psychologically energised by their garden activity. We already know that exercise benefits go far beyond physical fitness. Barter agrees, adding: ‘Feeling physically and psychologically energised is really important and these results add to the evidence that gardening can help beat depression and reduce stress and that engagement with green spaces is good for personal health.’
Want to try a gardening workout? Try these fitness-boosting activities:
Work up a sweat digging
Digging is probably the best way to get a work out in the garden. Prepare your ground for sowing by digging in bulky organic matter like manure or leaf mould. This will improve drainage and make sure your soil is packed with nutrients ready for sowing with all those healthy veggies. A person weighing around nine stone will burn 150 calories in half an hour of digging, according to Harvard Medical School – and the heavier you are, the more you burn. Choose a spade with a handle that comes up to about waist height. It is best to keep the digging action near your body, engage your abdominal muscles and keep your back upright. Digging is great exercise for your quadriceps, hamstrings, and buttocks, which should be hard at work, as well as for your trunk, shoulders and arms.
Rake to the rhythm
Forget the aerobics, get your headphones on and rake to the rhythm – it’s a great way to replace your aerobics class. Raking the lawn for 30 minutes burns around 120 calories – that’s the same as the calories burned in half an hour of tai chi, volleyball and even horseback riding. According to Bunny Guinness, landscape architect, journalist and author of the book Garden Your Way to Health and Fitness, raking should use the muscles of the entire upper body including your shoulders, the pectorals across your chest, and your abdominal muscles.
Flex your muscles by moving your plants
Autumn is a good time to start moving any plants in pots you’ve been keeping outdoors in the sun back into the greenhouse – at least overnight – to protect them from colder temperatures. Say goodbye to the dumbbells and give yourself a workout heaving your pot about instead, just remember to bend at the knees, not the waist. Bunny Guinness recommends squatting with your feet apart, grasping the pot with two hands, keeping your back as straight as possible as you rise and drawing strength from your pelvic floor and lower stomach muscles, which should be lifted up and in.
Replace resistance training with mowing
To make mowing more of a workout, use a hand mower, keeping the settings high to avoid cutting the grass too short, and push it round the garden yourself. The faster you go, the more calories you’ll burn, and hand mowing typically burns around 165 calories per 30 minutes for a person weighing around nine stone (57kg) – that’s over 30 calories more than using a power mower. Trimming the edges of your lawns is good for those who want to bend and stretch as well. A 2014 survey by the RHS found that double the number of men are happiest in the garden when mowing the lawn compared to women, who preferred planting and weeding.
Stay limber by pruning
Forget chanting sutras, roll up your yoga mat and keep yourself flexible instead by pruning ornamental vines. Creepers like wisteria, ivy and Virginia creeper often grow high up and need regular pruning to stop them taking over spaces so invest in a good pair of secateurs or loppers and stretch, twist and bend as you get your plants and yourself into shape.