Gardening for Health and Fitness

gardening for health and fitnessA few hours' gardening can work wonders for your health and wellbeing. It is easier and cheaper than going to the gym, an exercise class or swimming pool and many more formal activities. What's more you can work at your own pace and achieve something as you go along. Here are just some of the benefits you can hope to reap from your garden.

It burns fat

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 use up:

gardening and health Digging and shovelling: 250 calories
gardening and health Lawn mowing:195 calories
gardening and health Weeding:105 calories
gardening and health Raking:100 calories

It tones you up

Wielding the hoe and strimming the edges are also great alternatives to a sweaty tone-up class in the gym. Hedge trimming helps shapes 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 can help tone thighs and buttocks.

It protects your heart

Any activity that is energetic enough to leave you slightly out of breath and raise the heartbeat counts as moderate intensity exercise which, according to the experts, can help protect against heart disease. Get moving for just half an hour three times a week and you can expect some benefit, so if the sun is shining what better incentive do you need for venturing into the garden and pulling up those weeds?

Remember, though, to begin gently especially if you haven’t done any exercise for a while. Do some arm, back, neck and leg stretches before you begin your gardening session or take a quick walk around the plot a couple of times. Rising up and down on your toes 10 times followed by 10 gentle squats will help ease stiff joints.

It’s good for your bones

Women over 50 who garden at least once a week have a higher bone density reading (the reading used to diagnose osteoporosis) than women who take part in almost any other form of exercise, according to a recent study by the University of Arkansas. Apart from weight training, gardening did better than any other weight-bearing exercise including jogging, walking and aerobics. Exposure to the UVB rays of the sun stimulates the production of vitamin D, which in turn helps the body absorb calcium which is also essential for healthy bones.

It relieves stress

It’s not just your body that will benefit. The psychological benefits of being outdoors, working in the sunshine and fresh air, are also clear. Indeed, 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.

It stimulates the senses

Horticultural therapists have found that, for elderly patients in particular, gardening can stimulate all the senses – providing interesting sights, sounds, textures, tastes and scents – and stimulate memories and connection with the past.

It builds confidence

Watching things grow from a tiny seed instils a sense of achievement and self esteem. Gardening builds self confidence as well as teaching basic social skills. It gives an opportunity for the gardener to take care of and responsibility for another living thing. It also keeps the brain busy by providing new plants, new flowers and new techniques that need to be learnt and absorbed.

If you suffer from back problems

gardening and health Make sure all equipment is right for your size and build. Try it out in the shop and avoid anything that is too heavy or awkward to lift.
gardening and health Look for specially designed spades, hoes, forks and rakes that will relieve stress on joints.
gardening and health Choose a small lightweight mower or strimmer.
gardening and health Dispose of grass cuttings regularly; saving them up can result in heavy work.
gardening and health Take regular breaks between heavy tasks.
gardening and health Store tools tidily so you don't have to stretch across to reach what you want.

Watch your hands and knees

gardening and health Shake out your hands and wrists at regular intervals.
gardening and health Vary tasks so hands aren't held in the same position for long periods.
gardening and health Avoid thumb strain and inflammation by bending your thumb around tool handles rather than extending it along them.
gardening and health If your wrists are weak it is worth investing in a wrist support that can be worn under gardening gloves.
gardening and health Avoid 'housemaid's knee' by investing in a foam kneeling pad or special knee pads similar to those worn by skateboarders.

Information kindly supplied by Thrive. Thrive is a national horticultural charity which provides expert advice on easier and accessible gardening for people with restricted mobility. For further information contact Thrive at The Geoffrey Udall Centre, Beech Hill, Reading, RG7 2AT, Telephone 0118 988 5688. Find out more about the work of Thrive on their website.