The Secret That Gardeners Know

The Benefits of Gardening Can Be Enjoyed at Any Age. ArtMarie/Vetta/Getty Images

If you’re a gardener, then you inherently know how good it feels to reap what you sow (quite literally). You also know how much physical effort is involved, and so you might not be all that surprised to learn that the American Heart Association considers general gardening to be one of many forms of exercise that fall under the category of moderate-intensity physical activity. Most gardeners know this secret: that gardening is not only mentally and spiritually stimulating, but that it is a fantastic physical activity as well—one that can prevent obesity.

Gardening as Exercise

What counts as moderate-intensity exercise? Physical activities such as general gardening, brisk walking, ballroom dancing, and the equivalent fall into the category of moderate-intensity exercise. Most national and international guidelines recommend getting at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise every week. This can translate into 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise five times per week, for instance—and gardening can count as that exercise.

Additionally, according to the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), obtaining at least 1 hour and 15 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise weekly can meet the minimum amount of recommended exercise. Vigorous-intensity exercise includes physical activities such as hiking uphill, bicycling at or above ten miles per hour, fast swimming, running, traditional aerobics, and heavy shoveling or ditch digging, among others.

So if you’re a gardener who also does her own yard work, some of that—especially the heavy shoveling and digging—can also count as vigorous-intensity exercise.

The HHS guidelines note that additional health benefits can be obtained by increasing the amount of moderate-intensity physical activity to at least five hours per week, or increasing vigorous-intensity exercise to at least 2 1/2 hours per week.

If gardening is your hobby, you already know that it won’t be hard to meet this amount—especially when the weather cooperates. Getting into the rhythm of gardening can easily make you wonder where the time went!

The aforementioned HHS guidelines also recommend engaging in muscle-strengthening exercise at least two days per week. This is important for building and maintaining strong bones, for overall fitness, and for increasing lean muscle mass—which also helps in combating obesity. Most forms of gardening inherently and by necessity include the use of various muscle groups, including in the hands, forearms and shoulders, as well as in the gluts, thighs and calves—and don’t forget the abdominals! All the bending, stooping, pulling and digging can constitute one of the best and most engaging muscle-strengthening workouts you can ask for.

One of the wonderful aspects of gardening as physical activity is that any form of gardening can count. Whether you are a decorative gardener, an herb gardener, a vegetable gardener or a tree farmer, all gardening requires you to engage yourself physically—and mentally. In fact, it is so easy to get absorbed mentally and spiritually in the activity of gardening that the physical benefits seem like icing on the cake!


New online garden community encourages healthy living through gardening. American Heart Association. July 30, 2014. Accessed online at on August 4, 2014.

Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. United States Department of Health and Human Services. Accessed online at on June 12, 2014.

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