Cultivating Fitness: Gardening as Exercise | Exploring Weight Loss and Calories

Last Updated on February 14, 2024 by Lifevif Team and JC Franco

Garden hobbyists tend to spend a lot of time in the garden. In fact, we wile away many hours working tirelessly to transform our space and express our creativity, while also nurturing our plant “children”. With so many hours spent in the garden, is there really time for anything else? What about exercise? We need a bit of that too, or so I am told!

As I would rather spend hours in the garden than in the gym, I wanted to know if gardening can be considered a form of exercise. I put down my garden spade, took off my gloves, and set out to find out.

Due to all the physical exertion that gardening entails, it can provide moderate exercise, if done regularly enough. Gardening provides a number of health benefits similar to exercise, such as weight loss, calorie-burning, bone density increasing, muscle development and strengthening, as well as improving balance and flexibility. 

Gardening also releases endorphins in the brain, which is great for busting stress and improving mental health.

If you are interested in starting a hobby that doubles up as a great form of exercise, try gardening! Of course, I was glad to hear the news. I think I always knew that gardening was giving me a great physical workout, but now I can proudly and confidently claim that my favorite type of gym class is gardening!

If you would like to find out how gardening can provide you with moderate exercise, as mentioned above, read through the breakdown of physical health benefits below. 

How & Why Gardening is a Moderate Form of Exercise

Did you know that in order to have great heart health and remain in a “well-maintained” physical condition, you need to do exercise daily? Gah, I know, right?

Exercise is not for everyone, but when you consider how little you need, you might relax a bit. If you are doing high energy exercises like running or aerobics, you might need about 30 minutes a day. If you are doing moderate exercise like walking and light weight lifting, you’ll probably need a bit more. That is it, really. There is absolutely no need to spend hours and hours at the gym! Good news, in my opinion!

Gardening is, of course, the latter form of exercise. You are not going to be doing star jumps or marathons around your garden, but what gardening is going to do is provide you with far more exercise than you think. Below is a list of all of the ways in which gardening can provide physical health benefits, similar to other forms of exercise.

Gardening Helps with Weight Loss

The more you move, the more weight you can lose. That statement is true. Losing weight or maintaining weight is not always easy. You might not find time to go to the gym, but a bit of heavy lifting in the garden can help you to shed a few pounds. 

Weight loss is based on eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly. Just being outside, walking up and down, squatting and standing, bending, lifting, tugging, pushing, and pulling, is enough to keep your weight in check. The Iowa State University’s horticultural department released an article many years ago already claiming the weight loss potential of gardening – so this concept is really nothing new.

Of course, the healthy eating side of things can also be benefitted by having your own herb and veggie garden. Just having the garden is not enough – you need to enjoy the fruits of your labor. If you want to lose weight, you need to cut back on how much you eat and what you eat. That is not always possible if you are not a fan of making your own meals, but you should give it a try.

Avoid going out to restaurants where poor eating is encouraged and temptations abound. Rather enjoy the rewards of your garden. Eat fresh garden salads and vegetables, that you grew and nurtured yourself!

Gardening Burns Calories

This really does go hand in hand with weight loss, but certainly deserves a paragraph of its own. We all know that to lose some weight we need to burn more calories than we consume. However, sometimes, it is hard to stick to our allotted calories in a day and watching what we eat. That is why exercise is the perfect complement to our diet. It helps us bust those extra calories that just happened to sneak into our snack box at lunchtime! It allows you to have one extra bite, guilt-free. 

You can reduce the deficit in calories by doing a bit of exercise – that much is true, but does that mean you have to head off to the gym or force yourself to try to run a few miles? Nope, it does not. 

The garden is a great place to get all the exercise you need. You probably did not know that an hour of raking and active weeding can burn as many as about 400 calories. This could (in fact, it is) be the very reason why the National Center for Biotechnology Information lists gardening as a recommended form of exercise.

Gardening Increases Bone Density

We all know that bone density can be increased with weight and resistance training in the gym. For some people, exercising for this effect is very important and is the main focus of their workouts. That said, how can you increase bone density in the garden? It might sound unbelievable, but you can. Take into consideration the type of exercises that are done in the garden – many of them are very similar to those done in the gym.

Digging in the dirt can increase bone density. You would probably have never guessed it, but the University of Arkansas actually uncovered this interesting bit of information in a research study done many years ago. This is considered great news, especially for the American population, where osteoporosis affects millions of people. Osteoporosis Canada also believes that gardening, especially the tasks that require a bit of backbone and muscle power, can help those suffering from osteoporosis.

As it turns out, if you want to keep your bones strong and healthy, but do not want to do serious weight training in the gym, start gardening!

Gardening Helps with Muscle Development and Strengthening

Have you always wanted strong, toned arms or great shaped legs? That takes exercise, but you do not have to go to the gym.

All the exercises that you do in the gym can be similarly mimicked while gardening. While pushing the wheelbarrow, squatting up and down to weed garden beds, controlling the hose while watering, cutting hedges, lifting heavy supplies and plants, walking up and down while carrying things – these tasks all work towards developing stronger muscles that are toned and healthy. If you do these tasks consistently, you will notice just how effectively they work to transform your muscle tone and strength. 

Gardening Improves Balance and Flexibility

Have you ever tried to touch your toes and felt the stiff rejection of your body? I was once in that very position. Now I can touch my toes, squat with ease, stand up from a seated position on the ground quickly, reach and pull – and it is all thanks to my gardening habit. 

Because gardening requires a full range of motion from the entire body, it ensures that all muscle groups are worked and stretched, which greatly improves flexibility. This includes strengthening and working your core, too, which can really help with balance . You will need to ensure that you do a bit of gardening several days a week, though. You can’t put in one good session of gardening on the weekend and hope to see improvement quickly. 

Gardening is Great for a Mental Health Work Out

It is not just weight loss and muscle tone that you can get from gardening. Gardening can be quite beneficial for your mental health. Stress, anxiety, and depression – these ailments are distressing and can rob you of the quality of life that you deserve. Many therapies recommended for overcoming these problems include moderate exercise.

Exercising liberates endorphins in the brain, which are called “happy hormones” for a reason. They make you feel calm, relaxed, and happy. Once you get your first boost of endorphins from gardening, you will understand why so many people love to garden for the sake of their physical and mental health. 

Last Word: Get Out & Garden

Now you have no more excuses for not exercising. To lose a bit of weight, build some physical strength, and start feeling good about yourself, get yourself a pair of gardening gloves, a hat, some loose-fitting clothing, and head out into the garden. After all, it is good for you!

JC Franco

JC Franco is a New York-based editor for Lifevif. He mainly focuses on content about faith, spirituality, personal growth, finance, and sports. He graduated from Mercyhurst University with a Bachelor’s degree in Business, majoring in Marketing. He is a certified tennis instructor who teaches in the New York City Metropolitan area. In terms of finance, he has passed the Level I exam of the CFA program.