How to get fit with just 30 minutes of gardening

Ditch the gym for the garden

Welcome to the happy workout. Garden workouts are easily accessible, can be slotted in whenever you have a spare 30 minutes, are relaxing and completely free.  

Committing to a 30-minute garden workout just three times a week increases flexibility, helps with weight loss, burns calories and reduces stress and anxiety.

Man wearing a hat digging in his garden with his dogCredit: Shutterstock / upixa
The number of calories you can burn while gardening might surprise you

Are garden workouts as effective as traditional exercise?

The answer is a resounding yes. Many might doubt the wisdom of ditching the gym for the garden, however GP Dr William Bird, adviser to Public Health England, told us: “Gardening is a physical activity which can help reduce the risk of obesity, type two diabetes and heart disease.

“It’s a great exercise for burning calories and for getting people outdoors and close to nature which makes people feel psychologically energised too.”

Statistics show you’ll get an equally effective workout gardening, and are less likely to abandon such an enjoyable fitness regime that doesn’t demand clock-watching. 

Health professionals are urging the NHS to prescribe gardening therapy more frequently, suggesting that every £1 spent on access to outdoor community schemes could save the health service £5 in alternative treatments.  

Whilst on the face of it jogging for 30-minutes uses 240 calories, a slightly higher count than pushing a lawn mower at 165 calories for the same period – many of us might well prefer to swap the treadmill for the garden.  

Close-up of woman mowing grass with lawn mower in the gardenCredit: Shutterstock / Halfpoint
Mowing the lawn is a great way to work up a sweat

A recent survey by Censuswide revealed that since the pandemic 7 million people have taken up gardening claiming their mental health improved from being exposed to nature or just down to chatting to neighbours over the garden fence.

Gardening is a sociable activity too, one we can share with friends, our kids and grandchildren and is beneficial for those suffering from ADHD, (attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder,) and depression. 

According to a recent YouGov poll, the cost-of-living crisis has caused a total of 5.1 million people, (that’s about 10% of UK adults) to either cancel or consider cancelling their gym membership

When you factor in that up to 67% of gym memberships go unused due to members saying they are too busy to attend, have to queue to use equipment, lack the confidence to attend, or just feel it’s a bit of a slog, enjoying free garden workouts is a no-brainer.  

Workout summary

Project overview

In total, your garden workout should take around 40 minutes when including  the warm-up and cool down.

Perhaps best of all, garden workouts require no costly fitness equipment, expensive gym memberships or specialist clothing; that favourite old scruffy sweatshirt and jeans are ideal.

40 mins
Medium

Step 1: 5-minute warm-up

Walking back to happiness

It’s all too easy to dismiss the benefits of walking, yet even taking a leisurely stroll burns five calories per minute and if you take a brisker approach you can up that to 8.3 calories.

woman smelling flowers in gardenCredit: Shutterstock / wavebreakmedia
Make a note of jobs to do while walking around your garden

Whilst you’re at it, make mental notes of all the jobs that need doing.

Anything from cutting back bedraggled plants, untrimmed hedges, beds that require mulching, plants that need dividing or unruly climbers wanting tying back and pruning are worthy of consideration.  

Step 2: 10-minute weed-up

Weeding for wellbeing

(*Burns 200-400 calories per hour) 

The simple task of weeding burns 100-200 calories per 30 minutes, and love it or loathe it, weeds are a fact of life. They can begin sprouting as early as March, or even sooner if we have an impromptu warm spell.

weeding garden with metal pail or bucket of dead dandelions hanging over sideCredit: Shutterstock / David Prahl
Weeding can burn up to 200 calories in 30 minutes

Hoeing is the best way to deal with them as it’s kinder to your back and poses less risk of strain, as well as being better for the environment.

Removing flowerheads of emerging weeds also means they won’t set seed and scatter a new generation of weedlings, so it’s labour-saving too.

Step 3: 10-minute dig

Dig for vigour

(*Burns 200-400 calories per hour) 

Up the intensity with a bit of old-fashioned digging for 10 minutes since turning over your soil is a turbo-charged calorie burner.

Man in a garden digging with a spade and a woman crouching nearby weddingCredit: Shutterstock / Ground Picture

If you’re a vegan gardener you might subscribe to no-dig methods, so swap this activity by turning over the compost heap, mulching your garden borders or a combination of both.  

As ever, don’t overexert yourself to avoid sprains or injury and always work comfortably at your own pace.

Step 4: 10-minute raking

Rake up!

(*Burns 200-400 calories per hour) 

Once you’re done with the weeding and digging, it’s time to tidy the garden by raking leaves and collecting broken twigs or general garden debris.

Raking fallen leaves in garden. Man holding a rake and cleaning lawn from leaves during autumn seasonCredit: Shutterstock / encierro
Don’t forget to tidy up

There’s nothing like a good spring clean to improve a garden’s appearance and once done it’s satisfying to know you’ve got the jump on all the essential early spring tasks. 

Add raked leaves to your compost heap or store them in hessian, plastic or strong paper sacks to make leaf mould ready for use next year.

Step 5: 5-minute cool-down

And relax…

After exercise, a cool-down allows your body to recover from strenuous activity and gardening is no different.

How you cool down is entirely up to you: perhaps choose a gentle activity from watering, picking flowers or vegetables, filling seed trays with compost, sowing seeds or labelling plants.

Happy man and his granddaughter watering plants in sunny garden.Credit: Shutterstock / wavebreakmedia
Watering the plants is a great way to wind down (and tiny gardeners can lend a hand)

The versatility and enjoyment of garden workouts are irresistible – in fact you can start right now (assuming you’re reading this in daylight hours…).  

Stop whatever you’re doing, turn off the TV or computer, ditch the housework and open the patio doors, step outside, take a deep breath of fresh air, birds are singing, the sun is warm on your face and… begin. 

(*Based on an average human weight of 155 lbs/11.07 stone Harvard Health Medical School)

Written by Lucy Summers

Updated:

Lucy Summers is a Chelsea Gold and Silver medal landscape designer, author of the popular Greenfingers Guides and award-winning garden journalist. She has a wealth of broadcast experience presenting both gardening and consumer programmes for the BBC ITV and CH4 as well as being a key speaker for P&O, Country Living, Ideal Home Show plus gardening and hobby clubs.

She was a monthly columnist for Ideal Home and The Lady and is a regular contributor to newspapers and magazines and more recently collaborated on The Garden, Before and After, for internationally-acclaimed landscape designer Randle Siddely, the Lord Kenilworth (awarded the Independent Publishers Home & Garden Gold Award May 2020).

Lucy has written her first historical fiction novel that will hopefully hit the bookshelves sometime next year, and if you’d like to keep up-to-date on her writing and garden life, follow her on Twitter.

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