Gardening is good! It offers many physical and health benefits. And, done right, it’s good for the environment, too. It’s certainly popular with Canadians—our second-most favorite physical activity topped only by walking.
Study after study shows that even modest levels of physical activity—such as that found in various gardening chores—have a positive effect on health. Regular physical activity helps you look better and feel better. It gives you more energy and stamina. It keeps your muscles strong and your joints flexible. It helps you cope with daily stresses as well as relax and sleep more soundly.
Over the long term, physical activity has a positive effect on a range of health concerns. It cuts the risk of coronary heart disease and adult-onset diabetes by up to 50 percent. Weight-bearing activities, such as walking and gardening, reduce the possibility of osteoporosis, which affects 25 percent of women over age 50 and half of those over the age of 70.
Regular activity makes it easier to maintain a healthy body weight. This is essential as obesity increases the risk of high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, diabetes, and various cancers. Activity can also improve physical functioning and relieve the symptoms of arthritis.
Gardening is good because it includes endurance, flexibility, and strength activities. Cutting the lawn, raking and gathering leaves, hoeing the garden, spreading mulch and pushing a wheelbarrow to keep you on the move and bring endurance benefits.
Bending and stretching to plant, weed, prune, mix potting soils and hand water plants are all great activities to help keep you flexible. And digging in the garden, turning compost, hauling branches, and other clean-up activities will keep you active.
Garden with Caution
Gardening is enjoyable and best to keep it that way. Here are some tips to prevent stiffness, soreness, and injury—to help your garden in comfort.
- Start each session with light and natural activities. Save the ‘heavy lifting’ until you are warmed up.
- Include a variety of activities each time in the garden. Intersperse lighter activities with more demanding ones to give you a bit of a break.
- Pace yourself when bending and kneeling to plant and weed. Vary your position for comfort. Use a soft pad under your knees if you like.
- Lift with care. Stand close to the object with your feet shoulder-width apart. Lift with your legs—don’t make your back do all the work. Keep the object close to your body. Lift slowly and smoothly, and avoid twisting.
- Plan regular rest breaks—pause and appreciate the product of your efforts!
- Take care if you’re a weekend gardener. Extend the length of your sessions gradually as your fitness improves. Don’t work too hard or too long during any one session.
- Wear comfortable shoes with good support and clothing that suits the weather. Wear a hat, long sleeves, and sunscreen to protect you on warm, bright days. Drink water regularly.
You’ll be even more active in the garden— and care for and protect the environment —if you …
- use a non-motorized push mower (one hour of grass cutting with a gas-powered mower produces the same fossil-fuel emissions as driving a car 500 km.)
- Rake leaves by hand and sweeps the sidewalk with a broom — tidy up the old-fashioned way.
- Forego pesticides—pull weeds by hand instead.
- Hand-Water plants instead of putting on the sprinkler.”
Gardening gets you outdoors and in touch with nature and the world around you. It offers a wonderful ‘time out’ from a busy schedule—a chance to relax and unwind. Or as one contented gardener put it: “A time to smell the roses and forget about the rest.