Does gardening count as exercise?

h&g_Marcia tilling

Marcia Hendershot strengthens her arm and leg muscles by guiding a tiller through a garden bed.

Do you view gardening as “yard work” and see it as a chore? If so, you need to change your perspective and ask yourself, does gardening count as exercise? Numerous scientific studies emphasize the amazing health benefits associated with gardening. Gardening positively affects the body, mind, soul and spirit. It lowers blood pressure and LDL cholesterol levels, slows the onset of osteoporosis, and decreases your risk for diabetes. Working in nature calms the spirit, decreases anxiety and boosts intake of vitamin D, leading to improved sleep. Studies show that gardeners are “happier” people. What’s not to like?

In a nation of rising obesity rates, most people are looking for enjoyable activities to get moving, lose weight and maintain their health. Gardening is an effective aerobic workout for the whole body. Weight Watchers recommends gardening as an exercise option and provides PointsPlus® values that you can earn for various garden tasks. The National Institutes of Health lists gardening for 30-45 minutes as a recommended moderate-level activity, similar to biking or walking for 30 minutes. A recent South Korean study in HortTechnology that asked 15 college-aged students to complete 10 gardening tasks (digging, mulching, weeding, watering, planting, etc.) determined that gardening can even qualify as a moderate-to-high intensity workout, depending on garden conditions, tools and methods!

Gardening just 30 minutes a day can help you shed pounds while strengthening muscles, joints and flexibility. Tasks like pushing a lawn mower, turning a compost pile, carrying a bucket of water, digging a hole, or raking leaves provide strength training and build strong muscles. You burn an average of 300 calories per hour doing general gardening tasks.

DID YOU KNOW? Tasks like pushing a lawn mower, turning a compost pile, carrying a bucket of water, digging a hole, or raking leaves provide strength training and build strong muscles. You burn an average of 300 calories per hour doing general gardening tasks.

An added benefit of garden exercise is that it costs nothing! You use equipment you already have in the garage or garden shed (shovel, rake, hoe, watering can, pruners) and you don’t have to pay a monthly gym membership. Gardening is a directed, purposeful activity that reaps plenty of benefits. Instead of spinning or running on a treadmill to nowhere, you see the fruits of your labor in beautiful flowers or a bountiful harvest. You get fit and you get tomatoes!

Here are some tips to maximize your garden exercise workout:

Stretch. Before you begin a workout in the garden, gently stretch your body to limber up. The older you are, the more important it is to stretch to avoid injuries.

h&g_Group Shot

Gardening with friends is a great way to tackle tough tasks like digging holes and spreading mulch. Exercise is always more fun with friends! From left: Suzette Walston, Anna Mauck, Eileen Hampton, Ellen Ulken, Marcia Hendershot, and Anne Suenaga)

Vary your exercise routine in the garden. Start with lighter work for 15 minutes and then increase your activity level to get the heart pumping. You could begin with weeding, then move to raking leaves, digging holes for plants, or turning the compost pile. Change activities every few minutes from low to high intensity and then back to low intensity. This can be similar to interval training at the gym.

Exaggerate your motions. Jeff Restuccio, author of Fitness the Dynamic Gardening Way, writes that exaggerating your motions, i.e. taking long strokes when raking, can increase your calorie burn. He also suggests using both arms – rake with your right arm for 15 exaggerated strokes and then change and rake with your left arm for 15 strokes.

Water your plants by hand. I have a few 2-gallon buckets that I keep in my garden to hand-water plants. A gallon of water weighs approximately 8.3 pounds, so toting 2 gallons in the bucket means I am hauling around more than 16 pounds of water to various plants. This certainly will increase muscle strength and stamina! And you are being purposeful – keeping your plants thriving.

Use a push mower. My neighbor is diligent about mowing his lawn, and he always uses an old-fashioned push mower. It may take longer, but he is burning calories and strengthening his leg and arm muscles. Some studies indicate that using a push mower can burn as much as 300 calories per hour!

Take a break. Know your body and stop and rest when you need a break. Keep hydrated and cool, especially in the summer months. Your garden will still be there tomorrow, so don’t worry about completing every task if you are tired. Take the time to sit back, enjoy a glass of iced tea, and appreciate what you have accomplished in the garden and in your body!


Bonnie Helander

I am a writer and blogger with a specialty in gardening and a proud graduate of the University Of Georgia. I live in Peachtree City with husband, Dan, and enjoy hiking, gardening, being a member of the Peachtree City Garden Club and rooting for the Georgia Bulldogs!