Physical Benefits: Why gardening is good for your body

If you consider gardening to be a sedate activity that won’t help your health and fitness very much, there are plenty of good reasons to think again – it could add years to your life.

The NHS suggests that adults should do at least 2.5 hours of moderate aerobic activity a week and/or muscle strengthening. That doesn’t necessarily mean running or going to the gym; pushing a lawn mower is cited as moderate aerobic exercise, while digging is classified as a strength building activity. 

Depending on the intensity of the gardening you are doing, it’s estimated that work in the garden will help you consume 250-500 calories an hour. 

Regular stints will soon have you working out every major muscle group as you stretch, bend, lift, pull and push, in the process burning calories faster than you can say `Let’s have another donut’.

A gym outside your window

Sir Richard Thompson, a past president of the Royal College of Physicians and a former doctor to the Queen, wrote in the college’s journal Clinical Medicine: 'Digging, raking and mowing are particularly calorie intense, there is a gym outside many a window.’

Besides the cardio benefit, the physicality of gardening will keep your body flexible and increase your strength, particularly in your arms, legs, abdominals and back.

While mowing the lawn or digging is about big movement, there are some jobs that are more delicate and require finesse. Sowing seeds, for example, needs precision which will enhance your fine motor movements and maintain good dexterity.

Simple exposure to the sun brings positives; for instance, sunlight can increase vitamin D levels and lower blood pressure. 

Gardening can also:

  • Improve your balance and reduce susceptibility to falls
  • Reduce pain and help with recovery from surgery or other medical interventions 
  • Be used as part of rehabilitation programmes for people with debilitating illnesses or traumas, such as strokes, helping to improve motor, speech and cognitive skills

Thrive research

Thrive's own research indicates the power of gardening. 

A two-year community outreach gardening programme run by Thrive, called Sow and Grow, involved more than 300 people aged over-50. Afterwards 65 per cent of those who took part reported improvements to their physical health.

In another Thrive gardening programme aimed at people living with a lung condition, a third of participants reported a reduction in the number of times they needed to visit the doctor and hospital.

Long-term reductions in health problems such as heart disease, cancer and musculoskeletal conditions have been linked to increasing people’s exposure to, and use of, green spaces. 

A study in Holland showed that every 10 per cent increase in exposure to green space translated into an improvement in health equivalent to being five years younger. 

So, get out into the garden, it could add years to your life!

Tips for easier gardening - Digging

Spade in bed

You can dig beds at ground level with less bending by using a long-handled trowel or cultivating tool to turn over the soil. Make sure the tool is lightweight and that the handle is the right length to allow you to reach the soil.

Digging at ground level will be easier if you sit next to the bed and if the soil is accessible from all sides.

If your garden soil is heavy and clay-based, avoid digging in spring when it is hard as this will be more physically demanding; autumn will be easier.

If you have lighter soil, digging in spring should be easier as the ground will be warmer.

If sitting down to dig, make sure your seat is completely stable before you start working and be careful not to over-reach and lose your balance.

Find out more

  Gardening with a disability?

 Carry on Gardening website has lots more practical tips to help you continue gardening. 
  Mental Health Benefits

Read how gardening can reduce stress or go back to our It's Not Just Gardening campaign page.
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