Why you can garden, whatever your age

Gardening doesn’t immediately jump out as the most energetic hobby. But, to improve physical fitness, you don’t have to exert a lot of energy in short bursts. There’s more than one way to achieve a good level of fitness. Sticking to a regular regime of lighter exercise over longer durations can be just as beneficial for your health.

What’s more, there are no social barriers to who can garden. Whilst it’s often assumed that it’s just something for older people, the benefits can be felt by individuals of all ages.

Common garden activities – such as mowing, raking, lifting and digging – are all great as exercises for all-round fitness. But, if you’re looking to improve particular areas, you can tailor the activities to your requirements. Here are some examples:

Arms and shoulders: pruning, turning compost, pushing a wheelbarrow, hoeing and weeding on your hands and knees

Back: carrying water cans and other tools, picking fruit, hoeing and weeding on your hands and knees

Gluteal: weeding while squatting

Abdominals and torso: turning compost, hoeing and strimming

Thighs: pushing a wheelbarrow and weeding while squatting

The amount of activity you should be doing every week

To maintain a basic level of health, there are advised guidelines for the amount of exercise you should be doing, depending on your age group:

Toddlers – children who can walk on their own should be physically active every day for at least three hours, spread throughout the day.

All children under 5 – at this age, children should not be inactive for long periods when they’re awake. Watching TV, travelling by car, bus or train, or being strapped into a buggy for long periods are not good for a child's health and development.

Young people aged 5 to 18 – young people should be doing at least 60 minutes of physical exercise every day, as well as activities that strengthen muscles on three of these days.

Adults aged 19 to 64 – it’s recommended that adults should do strength exercises that work all the major muscles at least twice a week. They should also do 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity.

Older adults over 65 – so long as older adults are generally fit and have no health conditions that limit their mobility, they should be aiming for the same recommended exercise as adults aged 19 to 64.

Source: NHS Choices – Get Active Your Way

How many calories can you burn?

Gardening can contribute to the amount of exercise you should be doing every week. What’s more, it can be more effective than a trip to the gym. Prolonged light exercise, such as gardening, can burn more calories than a gym session – and it’s more enjoyable, as well as feeling easier to do.

With gardening, there are achievable goals to reach, every step of the way. So you can start small with potted plants, for instance, and work your way towards larger project such as planting and caring for a new hedge. Before you realise, you’ll have spent hours outside. That’s why it’s possible to burn more calories because, although it’s lower intensity, you’re more likely to spend much longer in the garden - meaning the exercise has a cumulative effective. Here’s an encouraging breakdown of calories you can burn.


Average calories used in an hour (burned by a 10-stone person)

490: Carrying heavy loads
1070: Chopping logs quickly
252: Collecting grass or leaves
322: Digging
280: Mowing lawn (with a push-along mower)
154: Mowing lawn (with a ride-on mower)
252: Planting seedlings/shrubs
252: Raking lawn
574: Shoveling
280: Pruning shrubs
280: Weeding

As a comparison, only 56 calories are burned while watching television. Obviously, the more you challenge yourself, the greater the rewards will be – so get off that ride-on mower. But for your fitness and health, it’s arguably most important to keep active daily – rather than doing a burst one day of the week and barely moving on the other six.

Fortunately, with gardening, it’s easy to get into a regular, healthy routine. It’s not a quick fix, but an opportunity to improve your fitness over a longer period, providing exercises which strengthen bones and improve heart rate, lung power and muscle strength.

“Gardening requires lots of water, most of it in the form of perspiration.”
Lou Erickson

Ten top tips for gardening safely

  1. Keep it up all year round
  2. Always remember to warm up
  3. Lift correctly by bending your knees
  4. Practice using both sides of your body
  5. Keep hydrated
  6. Mix up the jobs you do
  7. Don’t grip the tools too hard
  8. Use the correct size tools
  9. Stretch afterwards
  10. Occasionally target deep muscles with specific stretches

Making your garden suitable for exercise

You could also choose to make your garden a place suitable for conventional forms of exercise – in other words, a garden gym. You’ll get fitter by setting it up, and can also make use of it afterwards. It’s a win-win idea.

Having a flat grassy area ensures you have a versatile space for all kinds of exercise, from yoga to high intensity interval training (HIIT). But you could also set up a pull-up bar or sunken trampoline to mix up your exercise routine.

You don’t need to worry about ruining the look of your garden either – it’s a great way of getting creative by thinking of ways to blend them in. Fox gloves could be planted alongside the pull-up, for instance. Some varieties can grow up to seven feet.

Other areas of the garden could form natural apparatus. Raised flower beds are perfect for doing tricep dips and step-ups, for example. Spare wooden beams can be used for balance, using your core muscles to keep you stable.