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Natural Awakenings San Diego

The Fit Gardener: Backyard Workouts Good for Mind and Body

May 28, 2021 06:30AM ● By Marlaina Donato
Fit gardener working in the garden planting potted plants with a shovel in the ground

visivasnc/AdobeStock.com

Both gardeners and researchers know that tilling the soil can lower stress and uplift the mood, and gardening can also foster fitness, burn calories and support heart health. By offering an opportunity for moderate intensity exercise, it provides a challenging workout with aerobic benefits. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, light yardwork can help burn 330 calories an hour, so using a trowel, pruning bushes and putting down some mulch can go a long way toward realizing this benefit. Heavy yard work, like hauling buckets of dirt and moving rocks, burns 440 calories an hour. 

Time spent in the garden can be a dynamic fitness investment, whether it’s for 10 minutes or two hours. “Gardening is a full-body workout that uses every muscle. There’s bending and squatting, carrying and lifting, digging, walking and reaching high,” says Pollyanna Hale, the British author of The Fit Mum Formula. “Another benefit to gardening is that you can go at your own pace.”

Power Up Outside

Staying active fortifies the immune system, and gardening provides a way to work out while working the earth. Cynthia Miller, a seasoned bodyworker and passionate gardener for 30 years in East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, attests to the fitness challenge. “Gardening can involve many forms of physical activity, including carrying plants, hoeing, shoveling, lugging buckets of compost, pulling weeds, bending, kneeling and constantly getting up and down. Initially, in the spring, there may be a lot more intense physical labor involved to get a garden started, especially if you need to break ground. Keeping up with the weeding can be a good workout in and of itself.”

Hale emphasizes working within the scope of our personal fitness level and taking advantage of outdoor perks. “The fresh air and sunshine you get in your garden are benefits not found in a sweaty gym,” she says. “Many people are deficient in vitamin D, which we get primarily from sun exposure. Even if it’s cloudy outside, you’ll still be getting some benefits.”

Aerobic Gardening

With mindfulness, gardening can be a self-paced power workout, especially when muscle groups are treated equally. “Incorporate some stretches when you’re raking and cleaning up before your session. Engage your core and pull your abs in tight during your movements,” recommends Chicago-based Stephanie Mansour, host of the weekly national PBS health and fitness show Step It Up with Steph.

Mansour highlights the power of raking and underscores that any gardening session can become more aerobic by adding quicker movements. “Move quickly with your upper body to get in cardio. Moving faster will get your heart rate going and will help you burn calories. Another strategy to incorporate cardio into your gardening is to encourage yourself to stand up after each flower you plant or run in place for 10 seconds with each task completion.”

Yoga in the Garden

Incorporating some asanas adds another dimension to garden fitness, offsetting potential bodily discomforts from hours of work. A yoga mat can be used outside to protect from wet or muddy ground. “Additionally, you may find yourself in uncomfortable positions while gardening. Kneeling or squatting can cause aches and pains,” explains Mansour. “I suggest transforming these positions into yoga movements. You can garden in a modified low lunge position, with one leg behind you and the other foot forward, resting on the knee of your back leg while getting a hip flexor stretch in the front leg. While on your knees, put one leg out to the side so that you’re resting just on one knee and stretching the inner thigh and hamstring of your extended leg.”

Depending upon climate and personal ambition, garden workouts can nourish in other ways, as well. “Once you feel the physical and mental benefits of an hour outside in nature, you’ll wonder why you didn’t do it more often,” says Hale.

Miller agrees. “There is nothing like getting your hands in the soil to literally ground you. Nature calms our nervous systems. Watching the tiny seeds you planted burst forth and grow into something you can harvest is a miracle like none other.”


Marlaina Donato is a body-mind-spirit author and recording artist.