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How to turn gardening into a workout (yes, really!)

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If you’ve spent a day outside picking weeds, raking leaves, and planting flowers, you’ve likely experienced post-gardening soreness. True, 20 minutes of puttering isn’t going to give you washboard abs, but gardening can burn calories and improve or maintain your fitness level if done right. Best of all, it’s free and you can do it at home.

According to the American Heart Association, gardening is considered a moderate-intensity exercise, right alongside brisk walking, dancing, and water aerobics, to name a few. What’s more, the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) even considers “heavy gardening” to be a high-intensity form of exercise.

As you’ll see, different gardening activities will require varying amounts of exertion. If you’re ready to exercise that green thumb, create a gardening workout that burns calories while you clear away the underbrush. Here’s everything you need to know to bring a new dimension to yard work.

Benefits of a gardening workout

Experts recommend 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity. This may seem like a lot, but the good news is you don’t have to run a triathlon to reap the benefits of exercise. Further, these 150 minutes don’t have to occur all at once. Getting your heart rate up for 25 minutes a day, six days a week, is enough to hit this fitness goal.

Like other moderate-intensity workouts, gardening can:

  • Improve cardiovascular health
  • Regulate blood pressure and blood sugar
  • Reduce body fat

While bike rides or walks around the block deliver similar benefits, diversifying your workouts will exercise different muscles and prevent you from getting bored with your fitness routine.

“General” versus “heavy” gardening

The CDC provides a simple rule of thumb to differentiate between moderate (i.e., “general gardening”) and vigorous exercises (i.e., “heavy gardening”).

In the former case, you should be able to easily talk as you go about your activities, while in the latter case saying more than a few words at a time will be difficult. This is because vigorous workouts should leave you winded, requiring you to pause frequently to breathe.

If you’re looking to keep it low-key in the yard, opt for moderate gardening activities like raking, light digging, pruning, and weeding. For a more vigorous workout, spend some time on tasks such as continuous digging, hoeing, mowing, and lifting heavy objects like large bags of mulch or paving stones.

Calories burned during gardening

As with any exercise routine, start with about 10-15 minutes of pre-workout stretches and warmups and 10-15 minutes of cool-down activities. While in the gym, this may look like high knees and other active stretches, a warm-up in the yard can include light clean-up or watering.

Once you get going, be sure to focus on your form. Bending over for long periods of time can contribute to chronic back pain, so protect your lumbar region by lifting with your legs and avoid twisting motions.

Ready to get to work? Below is a handy guide to the number of calories you can burn with a host of gardening activities. These are approximations, with calorie counts varying based on intensity, body type, and other factors.

  • Digging and/or shoveling: 500 calories/hour
  • Raking and bagging leaves: 400 calories/hour
  • Mowing the lawn (with a manually-powered mower): 300 calories/hour
  • Pulling weeds: 300 calories/hour
  • Planting flowers or other plants: 300 calories/hour
  • Chopping wood: 200 calories/hour
  • Trimming/pruning: 180 calories/hour with manual shears

If you have a green thumb but can’t put your finger on a good exercise routine, gardening may be the solution that sticks. Even lighter yard work can burn calories and improve your cardiovascular health and overall fitness. This is particularly helpful if you live a fairly sedentary lifestyle, which is an all-too-common situation these days. Now, you know you can get your weekly workout in without even leaving the house.

If you’ve ever picked up a shovel or hoisted a sack of mulch, you likely aren’t surprised at just how intense a gardening session can become. This two-for-one fitness program will keep you in great shape and give your yard that curb appeal you’ve been looking for.

BlissMark provides information regarding health, wellness, and beauty. The information within this article is not intended to be medical advice. Before starting any diet or exercise routine, consult your physician. If you don’t have a primary care physician, the United States Health & Human Services department has a free online tool that can help you locate a clinic in your area. We are not medical professionals, have not verified or vetted any programs, and in no way intend our content to be anything more than informative and inspiring.

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Scott Harris
Scott Harris is a freelance writer based near Washington, DC, with more than a decade of experience covering health…
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