Does gardening contribute to daily physical activity recommendations?

Explore the different ways that gardening activities can help you meet daily physical activity recommendations.

Heavy gardening activities can strengthen your body.
Heavy gardening activities can strengthen your body.

It’s that time of year again. Gardening and landscaping season is upon us. Time to go into the shed and dust off your shovel and go down to your local hardware store to get prepped for growing season. You may be excited to start gardening, but at the same time, maybe you are reluctant because you remembered how sore your muscles were from your first day last year. If you are one of these people, you will not be surprised to hear that gardening activities count towards physical activity recommendations

Gardening and landscaping provide numerous physical and mental benefits. One physical benefit of gardening and landscaping is that you burn calories. This could contribute to weight management by helping you use up some of the energy from the food you consume. The amount of calories used depends on the activity, intensity and duration.

You may already think of gardening as a physical activity, one that provides cardiovascular or aerobic exercise for your body, but did you know that some gardening activities can contribute to the muscle- and bone-strengthening guidelines?

Gardening can help strengthen your body

Heavy gardening, which requires you to use a lot of your muscles can help with overall strengthening. Think of bending down to pick up something heavy, digging holes or making a paver wall. Overall, the type of activity and intensity is key. The activity has to be more strenuous than simply bending down to pick up a dropped glove; think of picking up pavers or a bag of mulch. Strive for an intensity in which you are sweating and may not be able to keep a conversation going with someone. Some other activities that may count towards muscle- and bone-strengthening, including shoveling, raking and pushing a wheelbarrow.

Modify gardening and landscaping activities to exercise your whole body

One easy way to include additional musculature (exercise different muscles) during gardening is to switch hands periodically when doing tasks like raking or shoveling. Another method is to change the activity you do every 15 to 30 minutes. An example could be pulling weeds for 15 minutes and then switching to dumping bags of mulch around your trees or bushes. It is likely you already have a rhythm down, but simply going from one activity to another in this way, can incorporate more musculature and increase the number of calories burned. Plus, this approach can break up the monotony of performing the same activity over and over again.

Tips for reducing pain and soreness.

Do you avoid gardening because it makes you feel too sore? There are a number of ways to prevent or even alleviate pain while gardening and landscaping. First, always use proper form during activity regardless of what it is. Moving with proper form helps you avoid pain and injury. For example, if you are picking something up from the ground, keep your shoulder blades back and down, and bend and lift with your knees, not your back. 

Always listen to your body. If you “over-did it” one day, you probably should take it slow the next day. Also, there are a number of garden tools available that can help alleviate any potential or existing pain. Your local hardware store may have gloves and garden utensils designed for those with arthritis-related issues. Using garden tools as simple as knee pads or foam pads can help lessen any potential knee pain. You should also take breaks here and there while gardening just as you would if at the gym. Try sitting down for five minutes and rehydrating with water. Lastly, be sure to stretch after gardening. This can help not only improve/maintain flexibility but improve muscle recovery too. 

Remember, if you do not currently garden or landscape, start slow and ease into it; especially if you are focusing on using it to contribute to daily physical activity recommendations, including muscle- and bone-strengthening exercise.

Michigan State University Extension has a number of resources including the Master Gardener Program for those considering gardening, and those who have been gardening for a while.

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