Michael Hunter, MD on Medika Life

You Can Use Gardening As Exercise

DID YOU KNOW THAT GARDENING CAN be an effective form of exercise? Today we explore how you can use gardening as exercise.

Sure, it is a great way to stay active and spend time outdoors. Moreover, it provides opportunities for stress relief and relaxation. But do you think about gardening as promoting overall health and a tool for managing chronic conditions such as anxiety and depression?

Whether you have a large outdoor garden or a few potted plants, incorporating gardening into your routine can positively impact your health. First, let’s look at some famous gardeners.

The first supermarket supposedly appeared on the American landscape in 1946. That is not very long ago. Until then, where was all the food? Dear folks, the food was in homes, gardens, local fields, and forests. It was near kitchens, tables, near bedsides. It was in the pantry, the cellar, and the backyard. — Joel Salatin

Famous gardeners

There have been many famous gardeners throughout history, some of whom have significantly impacted horticulture. Here are a few examples:

  • Gertrude Jekyll. A British horticulturist, garden designer, artist, and writer, Gertrude Jekyll is best known for her work in the Arts and Crafts movement. She designed over 400 gardens in the UK, Europe, and the United States, and her books on gardening are still widely read today.
  • Andre Le Nôtre. A French landscape architect, Andre Le Nôtre, designed the gardens at the Palace of Versailles. His style, characterized by formal symmetry and elaborate water features, became the hallmark of French garden design.
  • Vita Sackville-West. An English writer and gardener, Vita Sackville-West is known for her work at Sissinghurst Castle in Kent, where she created one of the most famous English gardens of the 20th century. Her garden design incorporated a mix of formal and informal elements and has been widely emulated.
  • Capability Brown. A prominent English landscape architect of the 18th century, Capability Brown is known for his naturalistic style, characterized by sweeping lawns, serpentine lakes, and artfully placed clumps of trees. He designed over 170 parks and gardens in England, many of which are still intact today.
  • Piet Oudolf. A Dutch garden designer, Piet Oudolf is known for his innovative approach to planting design, which emphasizes using perennials and grasses. His work can be seen in public gardens and parks worldwide, including the High Line in New York City.

These are just a few examples of the many famous gardeners who have left their mark on horticulture.

Gardening can be a good physical activity.

Many of my patients find it difficult to embrace the idea of regular exercise. They know that physical activity is essential to optimizing physical and mental health.

My response? Committing to a workout routine can involve something other than heading to the neighborhood gym or running that upcoming 5K in your town. I offer gardening as an example of a popular hobby that can serve as a good workout.

Photo by Daniel Öberg on Unsplash

The pastime is also a muscle-strengthening activity, according to the US Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, and one of the physical activities with the lowest injury rates.

Gardening is good for mental health, too.

‌Gardening can improve several aspects of mental health and focus:

  • Improves mood. Gardening helps me feel more content. It is a form of mindfulness. I focus on the immediate details of gardening, avoiding any negative thinking. Simply being around plants also reduces stress for me.
  • Boosts self-esteem. Helping a plant to grow is an accomplishment, and you may feel a surge of pride.
  • Improves attention span. Gardening can facilitate focus. The activity involves focusing on what is directly in front of you. Childcare Connection offers this about ADHD:

A safe and calm garden helps soothe a child with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). A child with ADHD functions better in a neat and orderly environment. A garden that exhibits order and structure will be beneficial.”

Moreover, communal gardening can provide social benefits associated with lower stress, less isolation, and a lower chance of suffering from dementia.

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Tips on gardening for mental health

WebMD offers some helpful tips on gardening for mental health. First, don’t ignore other mental health treatments. Medicines, psychotherapy, and other tools can help manage mental health problems. If you have signs of anxiety, depression, or other issues that interfere with your life (even while you garden), please see a medical professional.

Second, consider getting involved in a community garden. These are shared spaces where people grow plants in one large area or small individual plots. Search online to see if there is one near you. They often have experienced gardeners (useful if you have questions).

Third, decide what you want to grow. Do you have a favorite flower, vegetable, or fruit? Different plants have different care and financial requirements.

Finally, consider growing plants indoors. Pots, planters, soil, and a window (or artificial sunlight source) are all you need to start.

Physical activity benefits

Moving has numerous health benefits, including:

  1. Cardiovascular health. Exercise helps improve the health of your heart and blood vessels. Regular exercise reduces the risk of heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure.
  2. Weight management. Exercise can help you maintain a healthy weight or even lose weight. It increases your metabolism and burns calories.
  3. Mood improvement. Exercise releases endorphins, which are natural chemicals that help to reduce stress and anxiety and improve mood.
  4. Muscle strength and endurance. Exercise can help build and maintain strong muscles and improve your physical endurance.
  5. Lower risk of chronic diseases. Regular exercise can reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, cancer, and osteoporosis.
  6. Better flexibility and balance. Exercise helps improve your flexibility and balance, reducing the risk of falls and injuries.
  7. An immune system boost. Regular exercise can help boost your immune system, reducing the risk of illness and disease.
  8. Sleep improvement. Exercise can help improve the quality of your sleep, helping you feel more rested and alert during the day.

In summary, regular exercise is an important component of a healthy lifestyle and has numerous health benefits for physical and mental well-being. Gardening can be accessible and useful as a workout.

Oh, one more thing: If you are working in your garden or yard, please bend at the knees to lift heavier objects and pace yourself. Start with a short session, progressively increasing your gardening time and intensity. Finally, warm up by taking a short stroll.

There are few things more satisfying than eating something that you have grown.


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Michael Hunter, MD
Michael Hunter, MD
I received an undergraduate degree from Harvard, a medical degree from Yale, and trained in radiation oncology at the University of Pennsylvania. I practice radiation oncology in the Seattle area.

Michael Hunter, MD

I received an undergraduate degree from Harvard, a medical degree from Yale, and trained in radiation oncology at the University of Pennsylvania. I practice radiation oncology in the Seattle area.

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