There is no question that gardening is a healthy activity. It’s not a high-intensity exercise, but it does provide both physical benefits and mental perks. It’s a multistep thinking process found to reduce stress and improve mood.
Gardening requires planning. You can’t just dig some holes and drop a few seeds. In 2016, our soil was primarily clay. I had to build raised garden beds, add composted soil and surround it with a rabbit-proof fence.
Every year I add more compost to the beds, both homemade and purchased. We rotate our vegetables to different beds every year also. Patience has paid off with the nutritional payback of growing our own food on our property. Composting is another side benefit of gardening. All our coffee grounds and veggie scraps throughout the year go into a bin with chopped up leaves that make rich dark soil.
Spending time in nature digging in dirt, bending, weeding and hauling tools can be hard physical labor. We now have seven raised garden beds and a berry patch. This “farm operation” is located at the bottom of 56 steps away from our house. I haul all my tools down the hill and when I forget something I walk up 56 steps to get it. I tend to be forgetful.
My other “gardening” is trail maintenance on the Mountain to Sea Trail (MST) with the Waynesville crew of the Carolina Mountain Club. This might fall under the category of yard work. We spend hours every Wednesday morning widening and removing roots on the trail with a tool called a hazel hoe and lopper. There is also rock work and much more. We meet at 8 a.m. and finish at 1 p.m. It’s darn hard gardening. If you’re looking to burn calories while gardening, this is your gig.
It’s always best to go old school when gardening. That means “no-till gardening,” using manual clippers and a broad fork or pitch fork and shovel to turn your soil. I haul everything up and down my hill in a wheelbarrow.
Watching your garden grow and produce lettuce, tomatoes, beans, peas and more is good for your mental wellbeing. Eating these vegetables is excellent for your health.
Gardening keeps you out of the kitchen and away from the TV. Working under the sun increases your vitamin D intake, an important nutrient for all our organs. Don’t forget the insect repellent, sunscreen and a wide-brimmed hat. I always wear gloves. I don’t want dirt in my fingernails. Still, exposure to dirt is thought to be good for us.
Vigorous gardening and yard work that includes raking and hand weeding to stretch and increase your range of motion can expend more calories. In our part of the country, we have the added benefit of hills to work on. At home, I tend to garden for an hour or so at a time. It’s not like running or rowing, but I’m outside and I love to work in my garden and berry patch.
So, is gardening exercise? I guess it depends on what you consider exercise. It’s certainly a positive activity that stimulates all of your senses. It’s fun and relaxing and can burn calories. If you practice it on a regular basis and work your entire body it can help keep your blood pressure down and fight off depression. It’ll probably never be on a smartwatch as an activity choice but that’s OK. We don’t need to get neurotic over this topic. Just do it. Hey, that’s an excellent gardening slogan.
Spending time out in nature is good for your mental and physical health. Let’s leave it at that.
Patrick Johnson, RN, BSN, MPA is the former public health director in Haywood County, NC. He worked in public health for 36 years in Florida and North Carolina. He retired from the U.S. Air Force Reserve Nurse Corps in 2013 as a colonel after 27 years. Col. Johnson is an Iraq war veteran and has run over 400 races from 5k to marathon. He’s been a vegetarian for 35 years. He’s also bounced back from a heart valve repair, a severe stroke, seizure disorder and still battles atrial fibrillation and retirement. He continues to hike, lift weights, stretch, meditate. Patrick and Kathie have seven raised garden beds and a berry patch.