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Horticultural activities can be viewed as an effective wellness program because performing gardening tasks offers countless health benefits. In addition to fresh, nutrient-dense foods, gardening activities can reduce stress, improve confidence, help focus, facilitate weight loss, decrease blood pressure, maintain healthy bone mass, and strengthen the body.
Gardening tasks recruit all the major muscle groups: legs, buttocks, arms, shoulders, neck, back, and abdominals. In addition to the aerobic exertion involved, gardening has other pluses that make it a fabulous way to burn calories. There can be a great deal of stretching involved with gardening, like reaching for weeds, bending to plant, and extending a rake. Lifting bags of mulch, pushing wheelbarrows or reel mowers, and shoveling all provide resistance training similar to weight lifting, which leads to healthier bones and joints. The small, intrinsic muscles are recruited to stabilize and control movements while the large, superficial muscles are used for gross motor movements.
Assuming proper biomechanics are performed while lifting, bending, moving, and carrying; a gardening workout is much less stressful to the joints than some other forms of recreational activities. Research indicates that an individual can use just as much energy performing gardening tasks compared to a gym-based exercise program. I believe gardeners burn even more calories because we tend to spend more time in the garden engaging in physical activity than a typical visit to the gym. The chart below provides the average number of calories gardeners expend performing different tasks for 30 minutes:
Keep in mind that gardening is like any other strenuous activity and requires a dynamic warm-up and cool-down session. Benefits include enhanced blood flow to the muscles and increased range of motion, reducing the risk of injury and next day soreness. If you begin to feel exhausted it may be a sign that you are dehydrated, the particular activity is too strenuous, or you may simply be fatigued from a long day in the garden. Be sure to drink plenty of water before, during, and after a gardening session. It is important to begin with light gardening tasks and progress to more intense tasks and take frequent breaks.
Burning calories in the garden is wonderful benefit gardeners enjoy. Think of your garden as the gym, but without the membership fee, and awkward machines--and enormous carbon footprint.