Is gardening just as good for you as hitting the gym?
A new study suggests that even low-to-moderate level physical activities like gardening can have a major impact on your health.
The study, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, followed a group of more than 88,000 Americans, age 40 to 85, over the course of 11 years.
The people who participated in just 10 to 59 minutes of moderate physical activity per week — such as gardening, walking or dancing — had an 18% lower risk of death from any cause. More specifically, their risk of death from a cardiovascular event like a heart attack or stroke dropped 12%.
Meanwhile, people who did anywhere from 2.5 to 5 hours per week of moderate physical activity reduced their overall risk of death by 31%.
Why is gardening so good for the body? There are plenty of reasons, says Michelle Adams, an instructor of kinesiology and nutrition at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
For one, the movements you make while gardening can give you a light cardiovascular workout.
“The actual motions involved with digging and raking all involve a lot of coordinated upper and lower body movement that actually increases metabolic rate and can get your heart rate a little bit elevated,” Adams told TODAY Home. “Not at an intense level, but at a nice low to moderate intensity level.”
Also, gardening basically forces you to do squats.
“In gardening, you need to get down on the earth, you need to plant, you need to pick,” she said. “You have to be able to do a squat to be able to garden.”
Gardening can strengthen large muscle groups like your quads, hamstrings and glutes, and it can also strengthen smaller muscles and ligaments in the hands and feet.
“You’re using the intricate muscles of your feet to balance on uneven ground when you’re working in grass or on mulch or on dirt,” Adams said. And, you strengthen the tiny “ligaments that are in your hands from digging or shoveling or holding a rake with a grip, or pushing a lawnmower."
That said, while gardening can definitely have physical benefits, it doesn’t mean you should ditch more high-intensity workouts altogether.
Researchers noted in the same study that more vigorous exercise still has more health benefits than moderate activities. And more rigorous workouts can be a better option for people who only have limited time to exercise.
“Individuals who participated in vigorous physical activities had significantly lower risk of death than those who only did light/moderate physical activity,” the journal said in a release about the study. “So the authors recommend … that people short of time should consider more vigorous activities.”
So, maybe don’t cancel that gym membership just yet. That said, with spring arriving, it certainly can’t hurt to get out the watering can and gardening gloves. And chances are, it’ll be way more fun than the elliptical!