Gardening is rated as one of the most common forms of exercise, yet just how well does it stack up against other kinds of activity for keeping us fit and healthy? Not surprisingly, it all depends just how much time you spend in your garden, and to what extent you exert yourself while carrying out your various tasks. Generally speaking, gardening is regarded as moderate exercise which means it’s every bit as good as a walk or going for a bike ride. But because gardening involves a range of activities, you’re much more likely to be using several different major muscle groups as you work. Back, neck, legs, tummy and buttocks are all engaged as you dig, lift, carry, prune, plant and weed. In fact, your activities are more akin to the sort of workout you might get at a boot camp for seniors, with balance at the heart of it, as well as strength and endurance. Because gardening is usually low impact (i.e. it doesn’t exert significant force on your body) your joints aren’t being exposed to any great strain, and what’s more, because gardening is usually viewed as enjoyable, you’re likely to devote more time to it than you would a planned exercise session at the gym or swimming pool. On top of everything else, you don’t need a subscription to join!
With gardening counting as exercise, it makes no sense at all that (as one one gardening survey discovered) only 81% of gardeners ever bother to warm up before heading out for a session. Yet getting out of your armchair and immediately starting to dig a hole is asking for a trip to the physio. Before you tackle any tasks, take yourself for a 5-10 minute walk, then enjoy some gentle stretches (ask your GP or physio for suggestions). Start gardening with the lighter tasks first, and leave digging, lifting, and turning the compost until last.
Swap it in
As we grow older, many of us want to retain our gardens yet struggle to find the energy or the time for everything that this requires. The secret to continuing to garden is to swap in some of its activities for other forms of exercise. Don’t try to take your daily half hour walk and then come home and mow the lawn. Treat the lawn mowing as your walk, and likewise let pruning stand in for your tai chi class, and turning the compost for weight lifting.
Easy does it
Last year alone, Kiwis made over 54,000 claims to ACC for injuries received during gardening. The more serious injuries resulted from pulled and strained muscles, lifting and digging. While lifting and digging comfortably within our capabilities counts as healthy exercise, gardeners can avoid injuring themselves through some simple tactics. Always ask a friend or family member to help with shifting the likes of heavy planters and garden furniture, don’t garden on dangerous slopes, and never shy away from employing a professional when the job requires it (leave the job of trimming a tall hedge, or removing a tree, to those who have the tools and skills to do it). If in any doubt, imagine you’re in a gym, and ask yourself what your personal trainer would advise!