A gardener hoes a flower bed vigorously
If you think gardening is a sedate activity, there are plenty of good reasons to think again. Gardening can help your health and fitness in many ways and could add years to your life.
Person using a garden hoe to draw a drill in the soil
A person uses a garden hoe to draw a drill in the soil

Being active is one of the 5 Ways to Wellbeing from the New Economics Foundation and UK Government.

Regular physical activity, whether vigorous or more gentle, can offer many benefits.

1. Burning calories

Adults should do at least 150 minutes of light aerobic exercise a week. This doesn’t have to mean running or going to the gym. Mowing a lawn, digging, raking and even turning the compost are forms of aerobic exercise.

It’s amazing how my fitness has changed. Just turning the compost is so active!

Nick, Thrive client gardener

Gardening can help you use 250-500 calories an hour, depending on the activity.

Sir Richard Thompson, past president of the Royal College of Physicians, wrote about gardening in Clinical Medicine journal. He said 'Digging, raking and mowing are particularly calorie intense. There is a gym outside many a window.’

If you’re unable to dig, using hand tools has as many benefits. Walking around the garden will also get you moving.

2. Building muscle strength and flexibility

Some gardening activities help keep your body flexible and build muscle strength.

You can work out every major muscle group as you stretch, bend, lift, pull and push. This is particularly felt in your arms, legs, abdominals and back.

3. Enhancing fine motor skills and dexterity

It’s not all about the big movements. Some jobs are more delicate and call for finesse. When you sow seeds, for example, you work on your fine motor movements and maintain good dexterity.

4. Other benefits for your body

There are many other ways gardening can benefit your body:

  • Simple exposure to the sun brings positives. Sunlight can increase vitamin D levels and lower blood pressure
  • Some activities can improve your balance and reduce susceptibility to falls
  • Gardening can reduce pain. It can help with recovery from surgery or other medical interventions
  • It can help as part of rehabilitation programmes. People with debilitating illnesses or trauma, such as a stroke, can improve motor, speech and cognitive skills

It isn’t only your body that benefits from regular physical activity. Staying active can also boost your mood, and slow cognitive decline.

Woman kneeling and planting
A woman kneeling and planting

Thrive's own research indicates the power of gardening.

We ran a two-year community outreach gardening programme, called Sow and Grow. It involved more than 300 people aged over-50. Afterwards, 65 per cent reported improvements to their physical health.

Another Thrive programme ran for people living with a lung condition. A third of participants said it reduced the number of times they needed to visit the doctor and hospital.

I live in a flat now, with no garden, but I have an allotment. There’s always lots of clearing and digging to be done, so it’s a good way of keeping fit.

Mark, Thrive client gardener

There is a wide body of research into gardening and physical health. This shows the many benefits as people use green spaces. These include long-term reductions in heart disease, cancer and musculoskeletal conditions (like back and neck pain).

A study in Holland looked at exposure to green spaces. For every 10 per cent increase, there was the same health improvement as being five years younger.

So, get outside - it could be what your body needs right now!

Help us continue to make gardening accessible for all. Make a donation to Thrive today. Thank you.

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