Gardening in the Green Gym!

Gardening can be fabulous for us, both physically and mentally. Whether it’s weeding, lawn mowing, digging to plant delicious veg or moving pots, gardening is such a great way for all ages to keep fit. I’m an addict!

Most major muscle groups in the body can get a workout in the green gym, and depending on the type of garden work you’re doing, it can:

  • Strengthen your muscles
  • Improve cardiovascular fitness by raising your heart rate
  • Improve hand / arm coordination and strength
  • Improve your flexibility

The World Health Organisation and NHS recommend adults should aim to:

  • do strengthening activities that work all the major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms) on at least 2 days a week
  • do at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity a week or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity a week
  • spread exercise evenly over 4 to 5 days a week, or every day
  • reduce time spent sitting or lying down and break up long periods of not moving with some activity

You could achieve this just by gardening!

Man Working With Spade In The Garden Stock Photo, Picture And Royalty Free  Image. Image 41765432.

Physically, gardening is great for your heart.  Digging, weeding, lifting and moving plants, composts etc all burn calories and activate major muscles in the musculoskeletal system demanding oxygen – in other words it’s a good cardio vascular and strengthening work out. It’s thought that half an hour of gardening uses the same amount of energy as playing badminton or practising yoga.

A person weighing 9 stone will burn approximately 150 calories in half an hour of digging according to Harvard Medical School. Raking the lawn for 30 minutes = 120 calories – that would off set the glass of wine at the end of the gardening day!

According to a survey commissioned by the Royal Horticultural Society, an overwhelming 80% of gardeners say it helps them stay in shape. What’s more, 70% of people surveyed say gardening helps tone forearms. Half say the activity tones thighs, and nearly a third say it tones their bottom. Pulling those weeds keeps your hands and wrists strong too.

You can make gardening a harder workout by pushing a lawn mower, by lifting and moving pots.  Raking should use the muscles of the entire upper body including your shoulders, the pectorals across your chest, and your abdominal muscles. Digging is great exercise for your quadriceps, hamstrings, and buttocks, as well as for your trunk, shoulders and arms. For tips on how to do this safely and avoid injury, read on….

Mentally and Emotionally, gardening has been shown to build self-esteem, reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression and make you feel happier. In fact, GPs are increasingly using environmental therapies, called ‘green prescribing’, to support people with different health conditions including dementia and addiction. This may involve connecting people to green spaces and activities like gardening, to promote their wellbeing.

Engaging with the natural world around you is also a great way to practice mindfulness. You can let your troubles go by focusing on the physical gardening task in front of you.

Watching something grow keeps us in touch with nature, gives a wonderful feeling of achievement, bonds us as a family and community and then at the end of it you may have something deliciously healthy to eat with no food miles! If you can grow something tasty to eat, what can’t you do?

Time spent outside boosts vitamin D levels and we’re all being told we may be low in that (but don’t forget to wear sunscreen) … there’s also evidence that inhaling healthy bacteria from soil increases your serotonin (happy chemicals) in the body. Even looking at the colour green or a beautiful flower or view has been shown to lift our mood. Ever noticed how many hospital wards are painted green or have murals of plants and nature…

The Secret to Container Vegetable Gardening

Don’t have a garden?

Don’t be put off gardening if you lack gardening skills or don’t have a garden space. There are lots of healthy ways you can bring gardening into your home.

  • Grow fresh tomatoes or herbs in pots on windowsills, patios or in window boxes. They’re easy to grow and are a tasty addition to meals.
  • Take cuttings or seeds from houseplants you already have and regrow them as new plants. It’s free, and a great way to recycle containers.
  • Shop around for indoor hanging house plants, and create your own green hanging basket display.
  • Repot your houseplants to help keep them healthy. All you need is some fresh compost and a slightly bigger pot to your previous one.

If you want to garden outside why not join a local gardening group? Or maybe have a go at setting up your own community vegetable and fruit garden?

Community projects like these are a great way to connect with others and immerse yourself in the beauty of nature. Giving away plants you have grown is very satisfying, trust me, I have a permanent stall outside my house raising funds for MacMillan and I am happy every day a plant has gone to a new home and the tin is rattling!

Top Tips for avoiding injury

~ Like any exercise, build up progressively. We see a lot of clients with gardening injuries as we come out of hibernation, have those few sunny days in Spring and decide to suddenly go mad in the green gym. I have been known to say that if I converted what you were doing outside to exercises in the gym and told you to go and do that you would think I had prescribed way too much exercise.

~ Vary your tasks – digging all day or leaning over a potting bench all day is like any job where your position is static and repetitive.

~ Get appropriate tools – and maintain them. Choose a spade with a handle that comes up to about waist height. Keep pruning secateurs clean and sharpened as it uses less force to cut, go for longer loppers or a hedge trimmer rather than reach beyond your body’s capability. There are some great pruners for weaker or more arthritic hands and ergonomically designed tools.

~ Get down to the ground to weed if you’re going to be there a while, rather than stay in a bent over position for a long time. This means you can be on all fours and use one arm to support your body as you use the other to dig and pull.  Remember to use a kneeling pad or discover my new favourite (expensive) gardening trousers with kneeling pads integrated Women’s 3-Season Gardening Trousers – Genus Gardenwear

~ Get up higher if you are cutting hedges, large shrubs. Aim to not have your arms above shoulder height for long periods of time, better to use a long-handled tool or get up to a height where you can work with arms at shoulder level.  This takes strain and excessive force away from the trunk, shoulder and neck.

~ Bend at the waist and knees to lift heavier pots and bags of compost, squat 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. Has it been raining? Things will be heavier – is it a 2 person job really or can you put pots on wheels to move more easily…

If you’re new to gardening, or don’t exercise often, start slowly to build up your fitness. Listen to your body, and garden at a pace that you feel comfortable with. This will reduce your risk of injury.

And enjoy the fabulous physical and mental benefits!

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