With National Gardening Week upon us we thought it the perfect time to discuss the benefits of Gardening as Exercise.
Having worked for the NHS, I, as well as doctors and colleagues suggested gardening as a form of exercise to patients who wanted an alternative to going to a gym or joining a class. So we thought we would take a look at whether gardening really is good exercise and how to maximise the benefit...
The question of what constitutes ‘good’ exercise is, of course, a relative one. For those who spend most of their life quite sedentary any activity will be of benefit for them. Likewise, the elderly and those recovering from illness will benefit from gentler exercise than athletic types.
For the average person, gardening offers the potential for increasing all-round fitness. If we take a look at the fitness industry over the past decade we can see why. A few years ago going to a gym was all about targeting individual muscles with very specific ‘isolation’ exercises or doing aerobics for your heart. Research has found that these are not nearly as effective as once thought. Instead, most enlightened fitness trainers now advocate a mixture of these exercises (HIIT- High Intensity Interval/Intermittent Training) involving many muscles and regularly changing the routine to present different challenges to the body. By activating the larger muscle groups, the heart has to work harder and the body releases hormones which encourage muscle growth and increase metabolism, burning fat.
When we look at most fitness programs we find the key exercises are squats, deadlifts (lifting from the ground), lunges, push, pull and twists. These don’t have to involve any special gym equipment and are all very similar to the movements we do when gardening. So digging, lifting, carrying and weeding can constitute an excellent ‘whole-body workout’.
Your gym is your garden, surrounded by nature and fresh air. Your gym equipment is in the tools used, rakes, hoes, lawnmower, wheelbarrow, fork, spade, watering cans etc. Not only will you burn calories but gardening can help lower blood pressure and cholesterol as well as manage diabetes, heart disease, depression and give ease to arthritis and osteoporosis when done regularly.
Gardening works all the major muscle groups giving a good workout to your legs, arms, stomach, back, neck and even your buttocks. Whether you are digging, planting, carrying water, weeding, pruning or mowing exercise is taking place increasing your heart rate and toning your body.
Gardening also has a positive effect on your mental health as your brain gets a workout as you design and take in the colours, shapes and sensory information around you. It allows your creativeness to shine giving you a sense of accomplishment and pride. Stimulated senses can easily relieve and reduce unwanted stress allowing you a break from the norm. Growing your own herbs, fruit and veg in a safe organic way can also be satisfying as well as healthy.
Try not to accomplish too much at one time. Injuries are common but preventable if you start gentle as you would for any exercise and ease yourself in to the work in stages. Limit yourself to 30 minutes and then have a break before starting again. You don’t have to weed the whole garden in one go and alternating between jobs can be as discussed earlier, like a little HIIT class, a lot of benefit from breaking up the consistency of one repetitive exercise. So, 10 minutes weeding, 10 raking and 10 pruning should be a good workout. See what combination you can achieve and get a good workout.
If you do feel pain of any kind not just gardening we are available online for consultation and exercise advice.
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