If you want to stay fit, are intimidated by gyms, but enjoy the outdoors and want to benefit from fresh air, then gardening may be the perfect choice for you. As the weather improves and the days lengthen, many people think about heading out either into their own outdoor space or to a public allotment. Research has shown that regular energetic gardening provides the same positive health benefits as exercise programmes such as jogging or swimming:
- Half an hour of digging burns 150 calories
- Half an hour pushing a lawn mower burns 165 calories
- Half an hour raking a lawn burns 120 calories
While running or exercising in a gym may burn slightly more calories, doctors are increasingly trying to encourage people to take up lighter activities that can be fitted into a daily routine. The key principle in any fitness regime, is sustaining the exercise habit by doing something enjoyable such as gardening.
The Royal Horticultural Society asked 2,000 gardeners about their experiences in a campaign to get more people using gardening for fitness. 80% of the respondents said gardening had improved their fitness, 60% said they felt physically energised after gardening and 53% said it improved their mood. Around 70% said that gardening helped tone their forearms, 52% that it toned their thighs and nearly a third that it toned their bottom.
Health benefits of gardening
- Stress relief and self esteem – A Dutch study asked two groups to complete a stressful task. Afterwards one group gardened for 30 minutes while the other group read indoors. The gardening group reported better mood and had measurably lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol. High levels of cortisol have been linked with obesity, learning problems and heart disease.
- Heart health and stroke risk – A large Swedish study showed that regular gardening cuts stroke and heart attack risk by up to 30% for those over 60. By exposing your skin to 10 minutes midday sunlight without sunscreen, you will be topping up your vitamin D level and thus reducing your risk of heart disease, osteoporosis and various cancers.
- Hand strength and dexterity – As we age, diminishing dexterity and strength in our hands can limit our ability to perform lots of tasks. Gardening helps keep hand muscles flexible and agile but, as with all your muscles, make sure you start off slowly with short bursts of activity and build up as your strength and stamina improve.
- Brain health and Alzheimer’s risk – One long term study following nearly 3000 older adults for 16 years, found that daily gardening reduced the incidence of dementia by 36%. Gardening involves a combination of strength, endurance, dexterity, learning, problem solving and sensory awareness.
- Depression and mental health – Many people get a “lift” from turning even a small piece of land or empty tub into a colourful and thriving site. The benefits appear to spring from a combination of physical activity, awareness of natural surroundings, cognitive stimulation and the satisfaction of the work. Remember it is important to take time to sit back and enjoy what you have done.
The great thing about gardening is that it can be energetic and relaxing at the same time. It is an all year round activity and there is nothing better than being able to stand back and admire the fruits of your labour.
A charity called Thrive aims to use gardening to help people suffering with mental health issues or disabilities. They were established in 1978 and have several centres where therapeutic horticulture helps bring about positive changes to people’s lives. If you would like more information on their work, please click on the link above.
Alternatively, if you would like more inspiration, you can follow the link to the Royal Horticultural Society website.
Finally, if you think your gardening friends may like to read about how their hobby benefits them, don’t hesitate to Share this article with them via the links below.
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