As the weather heats up in the British summer, we tend to give our garden a bit of TLC. Spending time in your garden is an excellent way to improve both physical and mental health whilst burning calories. We’re going to take a look at these benefits and provide top tips for avoiding injury in the garden.
Gardening is a great form of aerobic exercise improving strength, endurance and flexibility. This can reduce the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, obesity and other medical conditions. Pulling weeds, reaching for various plants and tools, and twisting and bending as you plant will work the muscles in your body and help with strength, stamina, and flexibility and provide a good general work out. Plus - you may become so engrossed in your work that you don’t even realise that you are breaking a sweat.
Research has found that regular energetic gardening provides the same positive health benefits as exercise such as jogging or swimming - and is a hobby that people tend to stick with in the longer term. Older adults have been found to be less likely to give up gardening compared with conventional exercise routines, because they find gardening more interesting and varied - with different tasks to perform as the seasons change. Older adults who are physically active outdoors accumulate significantly more minutes of exercise than those who exercise inside. According to a US study, outdoor exercisers clock up 30 minutes more activity per week on average than their indoor counterparts.
Gardening jobs such as pushing a lawn mower, digging holes and pulling weeds use muscle groups all over the body and in terms of burning off calories, gardening can burn off a considerable amount. When it comes to burning calories, digging and shovelling come top of the list, with mowing and weeding not far behind. Spend half an hour doing any of the following activities and expect to burn:
Digging and shovelling: 250 calories
Lawn mowing: 195 calories
Weeding: 105 calories
Raking: 100 calories
In terms of improving your body shape, wielding a hoe and strimming are great alternatives to a sweaty tone-up class in the gym. Hedge trimming helps shape your biceps, while raking, forking and mowing will all help to strengthen the arms and shoulders - as well as toning the abdominal muscles. Digging and squatting down to move or lift objects helps tone the thighs and buttocks.
Being in a green space has been linked with reduced levels of obesity in children and young people in the USA. The department of health also advises that there is strong evidence that access to open spaces is associated with higher levels of physical activity and reductions in various long-term health conditions such as heart disease, cancer and musculoskeletal conditions.
Gardening also protects your heart. Any activity that is energetic enough to leave you slightly out of breath and increase the heart rate counts as moderate intensity exercise, which helps protect against heart disease. Moving for just half an hour three times a week will provide these benefits, so if the sun is shining, what better incentive do you need for venturing into the garden and pulling up some weeds?
Studies have shown that just looking at trees and plants reduces stress, lowers blood pressure and relieves tension in muscles. In much the same way as a beautiful painting lifts the mood, looking at a summer garden, soaking up the colours, smells and sounds can help overall wellbeing. Just five minutes of exercise in an outdoor green space is enough to significantly lift your mood and boost self-esteem.
A study in the Netherlands suggests that gardening fights stress even better than other hobbies. Participants completed a stressful task and were then told to read inside or go outdoors and garden for 30 minutes. The gardening group reported better moods afterward, and their blood tests showed lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
Gardening builds confidence. Watching things grow from a tiny seed instils a sense of achievement and self-esteem. It gives an opportunity for the gardener to take care of and responsibility for another living thing. It also keeps the brain stimulated as there will always be new plants, new flowers and new techniques that create a constant learning cycle.
Despite carrying fantastic health benefits, as with any physical activity, gardening is often blamed for a range of aches and pains. Here are some top tips to help avoid injury when gardening:
Just as if you were going to have a run, begin with a quick warm up. Walk briskly to get your heart pumping and blood flowing.
PACE YOUR JOBS
Write a list of what you plan to do in the garden and try to pace the tasks so that you don’t spend an excessive amount of time on any one job or in any one position. Keep alternating jobs and change tasks before symptoms build up. Try to alternate the hand or arm you are using where possible.
LISTEN TO YOUR BODY
Pay attention to your body. Slow down or take a break if you notice pain or breathlessness. When lifting, try to judge the load and the task that you are doing and lift in a way that you are comfortable with – ask for help if needed.
USE HELPFUL AIDS WHERE NEEDED
Using a foam kneeling pad to reduce pressure through the knees and enable you to work in comfort.
REST AFTER EATING
Try not to garden immediately after eating – blood is directed to the digestive system, rather than the muscles.
Moving your back, arms and legs after gardening, will help to relieve any build-up of muscle tightness.
The great thing about gardening is that it can be both energetic and relaxing at the same time, with significant health benefits. The best thing of all is that there is a tangible result from all your hard work. What more reason would you need to get out there and start gardening!