Modern living has driven a concrete wedge between us and the natural world, and many are starting to connect the dots, recognizing that a connection with the land is important for our well-being.
Scientists have also concluded gardening provides a number of valuable health benefits, spanning from stress relief to improved brain health, better nutrition, exercise and weight loss. As noted in a 2017 meta-analysis of 22 studies:1
"There is increasing evidence that gardening provides substantial human health benefits … Here, we present the results of a meta-analysis of research examining the effects of gardening, including horticultural therapy, on health.
We performed a literature search to collect studies that compared health outcomes in control (before participating in gardening or non-gardeners) and treatment groups (after participating in gardening or gardeners) …
Studies reported a wide range of health outcomes, such as reductions in depression, anxiety, and body mass index, as well as increases in life satisfaction, quality of life, and sense of community.
Meta-analytic estimates showed a significant positive effect of gardening on the health outcomes both for all and sets of subgroup studies, whilst effect sizes differed among eight subgroups.
Although Egger's test indicated the presence of publication bias, significant positive effects of gardening remained after adjusting for this using trim and fill analysis. This study has provided robust evidence for the positive effects of gardening on health. A regular dose of gardening can improve public health."
Korean researchers have confirmed that gardening counts as moderate-to-high-intensity exercise for children,2 and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's 2008 physical activity guidelines for Americans classifies gardening as a moderate-to-high-intensity activity, with activities such as digging being a high-intensity.3
"Lifting and carrying 40-pound bags of mulch, stretching into hard-to-reach places to do weeding or pushing a lawnmower around demonstrates that gardening can be a physically demanding workout. You can burn serious calories doing gardening activities ...
According to caloriecounter.com, a person weighing 150 pounds burns about 300 calories per hour of moderate gardening. Here are the calorie numbers for an hour of performing the following easy outdoor tasks: spreading fertilizer or grass seed 175, general yard clean-up or picking fruit 2010 calories … hefting compost, raking and digging holes for transplanting … incinerate about 100 calories in 15 minutes …"
Another task that can certainly turn gardening into a high intensity exercise is adding soil amendments such as wood chips and/or biochar, both of which help improve and build your soil.
The case for gardening as exercise was also demonstrated in a 2012 study,6,7 which found those who engage in community gardening projects have considerably lower body mass index than non-gardeners, suggesting an active lifestyle translates into improved weight management.
Male community gardeners were 62% less likely to be overweight or obese, while female gardeners were 46% less likely to be overweight than their non-gardening neighbors.
Be Mindful of Your Body Mechanics
Do keep proper body mechanics in mind when gardening, though, just as you would during any other exercise, as the bending, twisting and reaching could cause injury if you're careless. So, be sure to keep the following considerations in mind while working:
- Maintain proper spinal alignment while you work. This will help absorb shock, and will allow for proper weight distribution and optimal range of motion
- Avoid overreaching by keeping objects and work surfaces close to your body
- Whenever possible, work at waist height with elbows bent and arms comfortably at your sides
- When planting or weeding at ground level, make sure to bend your knees and squat or kneel, rather than stooping forward with your legs straight. Alternatively, use a gardening stool