By: Kylie Thompson, BS, CPT & Intelligent Fitness Gardener!

Your garden is an unlikely location for exercise that provides so many physical and mental health benefits. When you’re absorbed with what’s going on in your garden, you’re not thinking about what happened earlier in the day, giving you a way to unwind. Not to mention the benefits of being outside in the sunshine. Gardening utilizes all the major muscle groups, increases flexibility, and strengthens joints. I’m sure you have experienced the burning sensation of overworked legs and arms.

Research indicates that 30 minutes daily of moderate exercise, like gardening, lowers blood pressure and cholesterol levels, helps prevent diabetes and heart disease, and prevents or slows osteoporosis. Dr. William Haskell, professor of medicine at the Stanford University Center for Research in Disease Prevention says, “A person has to do more than putter around a flower bed.” Haskell defines a moderate activity as the equivalent of a swift walk.

Sore muscles aren’t proof that you’ve exercised. More often, stiffness and pain indicate inadequate or improper stretching and warm-up, or overuse of muscles and poor posture. After gardening you should feel tired, not achy. Take time to stretch, and avoid marathon sessions turning compost, raking leaves, or push-mowing. Be aware of the duration and intensity of your gardening so that you ensure the maximum health benefits.

Getting a workout while gardening is easier said than done, as most of the gardening-related activities are pretty sedentary. But, if you try, you can fit in a workout while you garden. Here are a few things you can do:

Sweep –­ Take a few moments to sweep the patio or the garden walkway. Sweeping can burn up to 200 calories per hour. Sweep hard and fast, and you’ll feel your heart pumping!

Rake — Raking is even better exercise than sweeping, particularly after trimming your lawn. Make huge piles of grass or leaves, pick up the piles, and haul them away. You’ll burn up to 300 calories in an hour and leave your lawn looking spectacular.

Trim — Trimming or pruning trees can be hard work. Spend a few minutes pruning dead branches, and you’ll get a great workout.

Dig -­- Digging is amazing exercise! It works your back, arms, shoulders, core, and legs. Whether you’re digging to plant crops or double-digging to turn over soil, it’s a great way to get in shape.

Hoe — Hoeing is much harder and more tiring than it looks, especially if there is a lot of very rocky ground. Spend a few minutes turning over the topsoil to work up a sweat.

Squat while you weed — Most of us like to sit on a chair or kneel on the ground while we weed, but you can use your weeding time as a chance for a leg workout. Squat as you weed, and hold the position until your legs burn. Resist the urge to sit or kneel, and you’ll work your leg muscles beautifully.

Push the lawnmower — No more riding mower for you! Get out that old push mower, and push that thing around your lawn or yard. By the time you’re done mowing, you’ll be sweating profusely and breathing hard.

Haul away debris — Load up that wheelbarrow and cart the debris far away. Hauling a wheelbarrow works your core, your forearms, your arms, your shoulders, and your back, giving you an excellent upper body workout as you leave your garden nice and clean.