Is Gardening Good Exercise?

, written by Jeremy Dore gb flag

Hoeing weeds out of leeks

In discussions about the growing obesity ‘epidemic’ in the affluent countries of the world some people point to vegetable gardening as part of the solution.  Obviously diet is a major factor in obesity and gardening helps people to reconnect with good food sources and increase their intake of nutritious substitutes for over-refined foods.  Exercise is also listed as a reason for taking up gardening and I have heard many keen gardeners scoff at people who go to a gym, saying that if they just got out in the garden more they wouldn’t need it.  So I thought I would take a look at whether gardening really is good exercise and how to maximize the benefit...

The question of what constitutes ‘good’ exercise is, of course, a relative one.  For those who spend most of their life quite sedentary then almost any activity will be better for them.  Likewise, the elderly and those recovering from illness will benefit from gentler exercise than athletic types.  Gardening can be a great therapy for recovery and there are many other factors to consider such as the mental health benefits.

For your average person, gardening offers the potential for increasing all-round fitness.  To see why, we need to understand the shift of emphasis that has occurred in the fitness ‘industry’ over the past decade.  A few years ago going to a gym was all about targeting individual muscles with very specific ‘isolation’ exercises or doing aerobics for your heart.  Research has found that these are not nearly as effective as were once thought.  Instead, most enlightened fitness coaches now advocate ‘compound’ exercises involving many muscles and regularly changing the routine to present different challenges to the body.  By activating the larger muscle groups, the heart has to work harder and the body releases hormones which encourage muscle growth and increase metabolism, burning fat.


Look at a modern fitness program and you will find the key featured exercises are squats, deadlift (lifting from the ground), lunges (stepping forward while carrying something), push, pull and twists.  These don’t have to involve any special gym equipment and are all very similar to the movements when doing some heavy garden work.  So digging, lifting, carrying and weeding can indeed constitute an excellent ‘whole-body workout’.

However, the intensity of garden work can also lead to problems.  In a recent newspaper article entitled Spring Gardening is a Dangerous Sport doctors warn of the potential for injury.  The principle of the British College of Osteopathic Medicine says that clinics experience a surge in garden-related injuries as the weather warms up.  "What happens is that people forget themselves and go in all gung-ho after the relative hibernation of the winter months, forgetting that their bodies need, like the gardens, to be coaxed in gently and limbered up over a period of time. People don't associate gardening with danger which is the most dangerous thing of all." Injuries such as gardener’s back, weeder’s wrist and pruner’s neck are all preventable if you start with gentler activities as you would for any exercise and ease yourself in to the new season’s work in stages.

So, gardening can be great exercise but it is necessary to take into account other important factors.  The committed vegetable gardener who has a sizeable plot or allotment and is out tending it come rain or shine will no doubt experience many of the potential health benefits.  The opposite extreme is the seasonal gardener who wakes up one sunny spring day and tries to dig a whole new vegetable plot.  Not only is that a recipe for injury but once dug it will probably require much less effort to maintain and give less exercise benefit. 

Personally I find that my daily work in front of a computer can lead to back and neck strain if I don’t exercise regularly.  During early Spring that activity can be gardening, such as the three tonnes of compost I recently moved into new raised beds – done over a period of several weeks.  For the rest of the year I need a bit more than weeding my plot affords.  Gardening is great for the soul and the body but in this age of desk-based activities it needs to be balanced with sensible exercise advice as well.

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Show Comments


"After working for several years in a nursery i found that i was much fitter than i am now. I could lift the 80ltr bags of compost with no problem. The bending and stretching of the daily work kept me supple but this was only to a certain point. Gradualy over time back and neck ache crept in. Now i have to be much more sensible, and enjoy my gardening with help from hubby.(lifting heavy pots etc...). Yes i do agree that gardening is very good exercise and i think that more people should take up this lovely past time, but please take it slowly to start with. Dont bite off more than you can cope with and enjoy it to the full."
kay keld on Monday 20 April 2009
"I'm still in recovery from a total pancreatectomy (Now a Type 1 Diabetic) followed by 2 major surgeries for intestinal obstructions. Gardening, for me, is the solution to overall exercise and I can put a time limit on myself in order to minimize injury. The emotional and mental boost gardening gives me is priceless as well."
Tracy Letto on Wednesday 22 April 2009
"Tracy, thank you for suggseting the idea of a time limit - it's a good idea as like many people I find it is so easy to lose track of time in a garden and end up having worked for hours. Wishing you a good recovery."
Jeremy Dore on Wednesday 22 April 2009
"It is also such a good social occupation. Over the past four years since I have had my allotment I have encountered such wonderful people with whom I share this absorbing hobby-it is a fantastic cure for depression, tiredness, lethargy and poor appetite when you are tempted by all thefantastic produce!"
Dorothy on Friday 5 June 2009
"I really love gardening.I am glad you posted an information regarding it. Actually i am really looking for some data about gardening. "
hydroponics on Friday 5 February 2010
" I have water problem in my backyard and have been digging a French drain (around 100 feet long). It is very tiring and strenuous exercise. Next, I will be working on planting vegetables. I prefer working in my garden than in the gym. I find it amusing that people spend $400 in a gym and then would ask someone else to dig in their gardens for another $400. "
amit on Sunday 7 February 2010
"What a great article! I could not agree with Jeremy Dore and Barbara Pleasant more. As someone who has been writing and lecturing nationwide on the benefits of applying the aerobic model to gardening motions since 1992 and how traditional gardening can be transformed into a comprehensive, lifelong fitness program, it’s great to finally see more articles proposing the health benefits of gardening. Getting in shape with gardening would be a great suggestion for Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move Obesity Campaign. Fighting childhood obesity is a worthy project and gardening is something anyone can do regardless of size or athletic ability. This is something the older generation can teach the younger generation. By applying techniques from aerobics, weight-training and the martial-arts to gardening motions, you create something old yet entirely new -- a lifelong, comprehensive fitness program based around gardening. By lowering your center of gravity and harnessing the energy from your legs and torso versus the muscles of your lower back and arms, gardening now becomes more aerobic and more enjoyable. Also, this technique will reduce strain on your back, muscle soreness and even calluses on your hands. Using the Aerobic Model while gardening and the proper tools can make all the difference between a sore back, aching joints and hating gardening to feeling as if you just stepped off of an elliptical machine at the gym, energetic and refreshed. My advice is and has always been: gardening can be good for you but only if done correctly -- and most don't do it correctly (how they move their body) and use tools that were not ergonomically designed. Obviously the British College of Osteopathic Medicine have not seen or read my book or they would have learned that there is a new way, a better way and a healthier way to garden. You can see a short, one-minute demonstration of my rocking and scooting gardening stance and technique on my website: or my book of the same name: Get Fit Through Gardening. - Jeffrey Restuccio "
Jeffrey Restuccio on Friday 2 April 2010
"Hi... firstly ... this website is awesome! I just had to get that in there... so thank you to everyone who contributes, if it weren't for you... newbies like me would really struggle! In November 2011 I had a breakdown, lost everything, suffered major depression and anxiety which led to me becoming a recluse. Recently I have moved into more settled accommodation ... with a garden!!!! Yay! I have always wanted one! The health benefits for me are immense! Fair enough I can order seeds online... but with the help of my carer I go out to buy compost and pots etc. This not only is getting me out into the world ... but I am having conversations with people as they ask my plans. I then have the next benefit... building my self esteem! It's so magical planting a seed (or tucking it into bed as I like to think) then it wakes up and has a good stretch. My initial thoughts were... there is no point in trying they will just die. But as to yet they have all grown! I CAN DO IT! Well grow seedlings at least. Putting together my plastic greenhouse thingy was a physical and mental challenge to say the least. .. but it's up and looks great. My carer suggested it as a reward for doing so well growing the first batch of seedlings :) it looks great and I'm so excited to see my outcomes! I have something to live for... it may sound silly to normal people... but when you have lost everything, sometimes the smaller pleasures in life keep you going. Its all about baby steps. As my peas and beans are doing so well I decided to use the climbing frame at the end of the garden to support them (it was left there by the previous owner) I spent the afternoon out in the sunshine tying net to the frame... stretching bending and reaching. The shape of it is great and I think it will be beautiful when covered in plants! I'm itching to go out there again :) today I plan to dig in some soil improver around the frame, plant some seeds, pot up some hanging baskets with strawberries and start to enjoy life a little more :)"
imgrowing on Thursday 11 April 2013

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