Garden workout

Tending to your yard isn't just good for your soul ― it's great for your body

Lauren Bonar Swezey

Fitness enthusiasts once claimed that the only way to stay in shape was to "go for the burn." It didn't take long for many of us to realize that extreme exercise can be hard on the body ― and difficult to sustain. Nowadays, fitness is all about exercising sensibly and having fun.

One of the most rewarding ways to stay in shape is by gardening. Every pull of a rake and push on a rotary mower works your muscles and heart and helps retain bone strength. "Just puttering around the garden uses two to three times more energy than sitting," explains Dr. William Haskell, professor of medicine at Stanford Prevention Research Center.

The health community recommends a minimum of 30 minutes of moderate- to high-intensity exercise per day to stay fit, but according to research, there's very little difference in health benefits between exercising three times a day for 10 minutes or doing it continuously for 30 minutes. "The Industrial Revolution engineered physical activity out of our lives," Haskell says. "We need to find enjoyable ways to build it back in."


Start slowly, if you haven't been exercising regularly. Build up to longer times and heavier chores.

Warm up and stretch muscles before, during, and after gardening.

Take care of your back and knees by bending at the knees ― not at the waist ― to keep your back straight when shoveling or lifting, and by using long-handled tools and knee pads.

Garden to burn calories Here's how chores stack up.




Turn a compost pile



Mow with a push mower



Dig, spade, and till



Trim shrubs (manual tools)



Weed garden beds



Rake and bag leaves




*Based on a 180-pound person performing 30 minutes of activity. A lighter-weight person will burn slightly fewer calories. For optimum benefit, each activity should continue for a minimum of 8 minutes.

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