Health Perspectives: Is Gardening Exercise? | Health outlook
There is no doubt that gardening is a healthy activity. It is not a high intensity exercise, but it offers both physical and mental benefits. It’s a multi-step thought process that reduces stress and improves mood.
Gardening takes planning. You can’t just dig holes and drop a few seeds. In 2016, our soil was mainly clay. I had to build raised beds, add composted soil, and surround it with a rabbit-proof fence.
Each year I add more compost to the beds, both homemade and purchased. We also rotate our vegetables on different beds each year. Patience has paid off with the nutritional return on investment of growing our own food on our property. Composting is another side benefit of gardening. All of our coffee grounds and leftover vegetables all year round go to a bin with chopped leaves that make for rich, dark soil.
Spending time in nature digging in the dirt, bending, weeding, and carrying tools can be hard physical labor. We now have seven raised beds and a square of berries. This “farm” is located 56 steps from our house. I drag all my tools down the hill and when I forget something I climb 56 steps to get it. I tend to forget.
My other “gardening” is maintaining the Mountain to Sea Trail (MST) trails with the Carolina Mountain Club Waynesville team. This could fall under the category of gardening work. We spend hours every Wednesday morning widening and removing roots on the trail with a tool called a hoe and hazel delimber. There is also rock work and much more. We meet at 8 a.m. and finish at 1 p.m. It’s damn hard to garden. If you are looking to burn calories while gardening, this is your job.
It’s always best to go the old-fashioned way when gardening. It means “no-till gardening,” using manual mowers and a wide pitchfork or pitchfork and shovel to turn your soil. I haul everything up and down my hill in a wheelbarrow.
Watching your garden grow and produce lettuce, tomatoes, beans, peas and more is good for your mental well-being. Eating these vegetables is great for your health.
Gardening takes you away from the kitchen and the television. Working out in the sun increases your intake of vitamin D, an important nutrient for all of our organs. Don’t forget insect repellent, sunscreen, and a wide-brimmed hat. I always wear gloves. I don’t want dirt in my nails. Still, exposure to dirt is believed to be good for us.
Vigorous gardening and yard work that includes raking and hand weeding to stretch and increase your range of motion can burn more calories. In our part of the country we have the added benefit of working on hills. At home, I tend to garden for an hour or two at a time. It’s not like running or rowing, but I’m outside and love to work in my garden and berry field.
So, is gardening an exercise? I guess it depends on what you think of as exercise. It is definitely a positive activity that stimulates all of your senses. It’s fun and relaxing and can burn calories. If you practice it regularly and work your whole body, it can help lower your blood pressure and fight depression. It’ll probably never be on a smartwatch as an activity choice, but that’s okay. We don’t need to be neurotic about it. Do it. Hey, that’s a great gardening slogan.
Spending time in nature is good for your mental and physical health. Let’s leave it there.
Patrick Johnson, RN, BSN, MPA is the former Director of Public Health for Haywood County, North Carolina. He worked in public health for 36 years in Florida and North Carolina. He retired from the US Air Force Reserve Nurse Corps in 2013 as a colonel after 27 years. Colonel Johnson is an Iraq War veteran and has run over 400 races from the 5 km to the marathon. He has been a vegetarian for 35 years. He has also recovered from heart valve repair, severe stroke, seizure disorder and is still struggling with atrial fibrillation and retirement. He continues to walk, lift weights, stretch, meditate. Patrick and Kathie have seven raised beds and a bay square.