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Cooperative Extension Publication - FCHS Gardening for Health Series

Gardening for Physical Activity

  • Christine Zellers, Family and Community Health Sciences Educator III, Cooperative Extension of Cape May County
Indicators of exercise intensity. Zoom in
Indicators of exercise intensity can be modeled by your breathing levels as shown below.

Physical activity is an important part of maintaining a healthy lifestyle. The United States Department of Agriculture recommends 60 minutes of physical activity for children each day and 150 minutes of aerobic exercise each week for adults along with a well-balanced diet to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Getting good cardiovascular exercise should be part of a healthy lifestyle which means the heart is pumping and breathing is heavy. It is important that adults include two days each week of weight bearing exercise like pushups or weightlifting in addition to the 150 minutes of cardiovascular exercise recommended. Activity should be at least ten minutes in length it may include several ten-minute activity times for one day to reach needed movement goals. Maintaining physical activity goals can be difficult depending on location and resources. Gardening can play an important role in creating physical activity opportunities and supporting emotional well-being for both adults and children.

Growing your own food offers low intensity to moderate intensity exercise depending on the task. As with any activity a person’s age and fitness level will determine the intensity level experienced and gardening is no different. Digging, lifting, raking, and planting all produce movement, for both the upper and lower body (Park, et al., 2014). As an example, the arms are being strengthened with lifting which means the biceps, triceps, shoulders and back are all being moved. Think about abdominal muscles while lifting or digging and engage those muscles to help strengthen the core of the body. Gardening also increases flexibility and strengthens joints. Bending and stretching to dig and rake gives the body movement that is needed to support strong joints and flexible muscles. Leg muscles and back muscles are involved in the efforts of gardening too. Other health benefits of gardening include lowering cholesterol, lowering blood pressure, lowering mortality, better hand function, higher bone density, and better psychological well-being according to Armstrong and Park et el. Taking time to grow your own food in a home or community garden fosters a healthy body and healthy mind making garden to table beneficial for mind, body and soul.

Incorrect and correct ways of lifting. Zoom in
Lift objects, even lighter ones, by bending at the knees and hips to a squatting position and use the legs to help lift the weight protecting the back.

As with all physical activities, it is important to remember to be safe. Begin gardening by moving around a little before trying to lift heavy objects or bend suddenly. Ease into the activity so that unfamiliar movement doesn’t cause injury. Begin with light movement like laying plants out in the garden or arranging lighter gardening equipment where it will be needed so that muscles become warm with movement. Walking around the garden or yard a few times could warm up muscles as well. Remember to lift properly especially since big bags of soil and mulch may be heavier than items that are regularly carried. Use caution when raking and digging as these too are movements that the body may not be accustomed to doing in normal everyday activity. Garden to enjoy fresh food and a healthy body but remember to be safe and always talk to the doctor before starting a new activity.

Gardening not only makes us physically active but gives a healthy dose of well-being. Exercise has been shown to be beneficial for improving a person’s mental health. Increased blood flow to the brain created by physical movement can stimulate the entire body which includes making the mind feel better. According to an article in the Journal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing, “Evidence has suggested that exercise may be an often-neglected intervention in mental health care”. Gardening provides food, a sense of fulfillment and relaxation which contribute to a sense of well-being, factor in exercise and gardening is a hands-on hobby for overall health.

Gardening has been well received in recent years with home and community gardens becoming more popular. Gardening not only produces affordable homegrown food that is healthy to eat and enjoy but it offers exercise and a sense of well-being. Using gardening as part of an exercise routine will make being healthy easy, fun and practical. The rewards are countless, and gardening is the perfect way to work your entire body.

May 2020