Get Moving By Gardening

By Ann Thelen

Gardening is a rejuvenating form of backyard exercise, full of health benefits.

The arrival of spring’s sunny days and warmer temperatures are inspiring reasons to go outside and get moving. While running, walking and biking are popular and beneficial activities, there’s a backyard activity that often gets overlooked as exercise – gardening! No matter your age, gardening is an excellent way to boost physical activity and mental health, while getting a whole-body workout.

Whether you choose to garden alone or make it a family activity, the health benefits of gardening quickly add up. Plus, there’s enormous gratification in reaping the fruits – and vegetables – of your labor! These foods pair perfectly on the plate with Iowa’s homegrown proteins.

The team at Live Healthy Iowa shares some key reasons to roll up your sleeves and to get digging, planting and weeding this spring and summer.

1. Gardening burns calories. Considered a moderate-intensity exercise by the American Heart Association, one hour of gardening, such as planting, hoeing or weeding, can burn 200-400 calories. Health experts say that by gardening, you can easily burn the same number of calories as you would by going to the gym. With social distancing guidelines, this is great news for people who are missing out on a regular gym routine. Some studies also show that people who regularly garden have overall lower BMIs (Body Mass Index) than non-gardeners.

Tip: Fill your garden with fruits and vegetables, which are packed with benefits! Shoot for three servings of veggies and two of fruit each day. Berries, citrus, dark leafy greens, carrots, onions, tomatoes and peppers are superstars to add to your plate.

2. Gardening incorporates all four types of exercise. As a whole-body exercise that uses all the major muscle groups, gardening involves strength, endurance, flexibility and balance. Striving to engage the largest muscle groups, such as the legs and torso, helps to reduce the risk of injury and soreness while burning more calories.

Tip: Exercise is more effective when paired with protein! High-quality protein helps preserve and build muscle and maintain a healthy weight. Aim for 25-30 grams of protein at each meal, plus snacks for ultimate body benefits. Beef, pork, turkey, eggs, dairy and soyfoods are great options to add to your plate.

3. Gardening is good for your heart. For overall health benefits to the heart, lungs and circulation, getting regular aerobic activity is important. Just 30 minutes of moderate activity five days a week can benefit blood pressure. Many exercise programs involve varying activity across the four types of exercise, and gardening achieves that goal.

Tip: Zinc is an essential mineral that is good for your heart. It also supports a healthy metabolism and immune system. A 3-ounce serving of lean beef provides 36 percent of your daily value of zinc in about 150 calories.

4. Gardening is beneficial for your bones. When breathing in the fresh outdoor air, you’re also soaking up the sun’s vitamin D, which helps the body absorb calcium. To protect against the sun’s damaging rays, wearing sunscreen is a must. Some research has shown that women who garden have a higher bone density, which can help to lower the risk of osteoporosis.

Tip: Obtaining enough vitamin D solely from foods can be difficult. Egg yolks and tofu, along with fortified foods like dairy milk and soy milk, are good sources of this essential vitamin.

5. Gardening nourishes the mind and soul. As the old proverb says, “He who plants a garden plants happiness.” Working in the soil and watching seeds or small plants grow and flourish can be a natural mood booster. In addition, exercising leads to more restful sleep. Getting a good night’s sleep puts a better perspective on the day and can ease depression.

Tip: Set aside time each day to unplug and be mindful, aware of your experiences and present in the moment with your friends and family.

6. Gardening teaches kids essential life skills. Caring and tending for plants teaches kids responsibility and can improve self-confidence. Plus, it helps kids to learn about where food comes from, the importance of nutrition and how to cook with the food that’s grown.

Tip: Kids and teens who have three or more family dinners each week build healthier eating habits and have shown better academic performance and higher self-esteem. 

This month, Live Healthy Iowa is promoting its Go the Distance May challenge. This free activity, typically geared toward schools and youth organizations, is open to all Iowans. The goal is to engage 30,000 Iowans in individual 30-minute activities and to share it on social media with a photo. Getting creative with a gardening activity counts in the fun. To learn more and register, visit Live Healthy Iowa’s Go the Distance May challenge.

To find more gardening and healthy living tips, visit the Let’s Grow Together and Live Healthy Iowa sections of our website.

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