Who needs a gym when you're gardening?

Gardening gets a lot of positive press about its social and mental health benefits, but a few hours a week can also result in a flat tum and tight buns, writes Fiann Ó Nualláin.

This is generally the week when we are all thinking about where we are with those new year resolutions.

Some of us are excited to be making changes and some of us are sheepishly counting down the days until its safe to let those bright-idea aspirations shrink into past notions.

For those who like present actions — go for it — a change is as good as a rest because it reinvigorates you. So give up the junk food, pick up the zumba or samba class, or just be your better self.

If your bright idea was to get fit, which perennially makes the top three resolutions globally, then you are investing in not just looking good but living longer and more importantly, healthier for longer and with the post-exercise endorphins — leading a happier life.

I’m all for a happier life, but not so much for a treadmill and obligation anxiety. So I skip the gym in favour of the garden — it shows you might say — but jokes aside, it actually might be something worth considering.

Gardening is considered a moderate physical activity that bolsters physical and mental health. It gets a lot of press about the social and mental wellbeing side, but it also does your body the power of good.

Ireland is having a bit of an obesity crisis with 18% of adults being obese and 39% technically overweight.

The ballooning incidents of diabetic, cholesterol, and blood-pressure related health conditions are almost buckling the health service, so fitness should be high on the personal agenda and might even be regarded a civic duty.

Okay, I’m not talking community or family bullying/scapegoating of the overweight or some compulsory state intervention of making them work on chain gangs until they shed the required poundage — but if being industrious, clever, and socially cohesive is being a good citizen and a source of positive national pride, then it’s positive.

What’s wrong with being as healthy as you can? Money can then go to cancer research, to premature baby care, to elderly services and not to managing the consequences of your being fat. Get over your fat self and do something about it.

I struggle with my weight — have since childhood, up and down and up and merry-go-round. I crave the wrong food in winter months when I get depressed and even though I know better, I eat erratically when I’m working on a book and mealtimes become fables of yore.

So yes, I would be on the roadside swinging the pick too. Part of me feels I would deserve it. And I am eager for February so I can get back into the garden proper and get moving in the right direction again

On the other side of being big, I do my best to avoid GP and hospital visits by paying attention to where I am at — eating right, eating well and making it my business to get some dedicated activity in every day.

The key is a regular, preferably daily, regime of at least 30–45 minutes of personal action in keeping fit — doing so is of immense benefit to you as a person and to us as people. That may be a spin class, a walk around the block, or a weeding session in the garden.

I love a good walk, but gardening rewards my soul and if you love doing something, then you will keep doing it. This is why gym memberships last for a couple of weeks and most drop out. The garden provides more than aerobic exercise, it also provides isotonic and isometric exercise. This trinity of exercise modes boosts strength, endurance and flexibility.

One could claim gardening as one of the best all-round exercises, competing with cycling, swimming and walking in helping to prevent heart disease, obesity, diabetes, depression, fatigue, cancer and osteoporosis. The World Health Organisation estimates that physical inactivity causes approximately two million deaths each year.

The answer may partially lie in more community gardens, parks, walkways, outdoor gyms — other opportunities to get active.

The best thing is that the garden as a green gym is a sustainable gym — there are no fees, no travelling to and from, no obligation anxiety — just a pastime that brings pleasure, aesthetic reward and numerous health benefits.

The green gym burns calories, build muscle, de-stresses the mind and all from the advantage of home.

Gardening, rich in fresh air and sunshine (you only imagine it’s raining), is an agreeable experience before you even pick up a spade or tend to a task.

It’s open air and connected-to-nature aspect, combined with that sense of purpose,reward and achievement that gardening brings, actually enhances psychological well-being.

This in itself greatly improves physical functioning too and is an incentive to get at it more. The physical activities of gardening, digging, weeding, watering, pruning etc all have plentiful beneficial physiologic effects.

Each in their own way delivers a healthy portion of benefit to not just the cardiovascular and musculoskeletal systems, but make contributions to the metabolic, endocrine, and immune systems.

Okay, so if you are new to gardening, some of it can be quite strenuous — digging a pond needs a degree of fitness to begin with — but you work to your own pace and it is the everyday tasks that contribute to a physical regime.

Mowing the lawn with a push mower is a cardiovascular workout and also burns calories, as much as 364 per hour. Manual weeding and hedge trimming with shears can burn an equivalent amount.

Raking has the potential to burn approximately 324 calories per hour while more strenuous tilling or digging can burn approximately 404 calories per hour.

A mix of activities will burn calories more effectively and also work different muscle groups. Simple garden tasks like sweeping paths, raking leaves and hoeing weeds brings upper body muscles into play and will, as a regular activity train and tone your biceps, triceps, deltoids and also the trapezius and latissimus dorsi muscles.

Aerating the lawn or digging over a bed benefits the lower body and can be used to tone and strengthen your gluteus maximus and quadriceps. Who knew a few hours over a week in the garden could lead to a flat tum and tight buns? So is it time to swap the treadmill for the lawnmower, the rowing machine for the rake, the leg warmers and sweatband for gardening gloves and a sunscreen hat?

You bet it is — but maybe next week when it’s a bit warmer.


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