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Gardening for Fitness: Can You Dig It?

Gardening isn’t a fitness sport – not the way cycling, running and swimming are – but it is a delicious way to cultivate better health. And greater wealth.

Think how much money you could save if you grew some of your own food or herbs. It fries me to pay $2.99 for a small plastic container of organic rosemary at my local grocery, when I can pull it out of the ground by the handful for free, and often do – and it always tastes better.

When you grow your own food – in a window pot, a community plot, on high-tech horizontal hangers – you also reduce your carbon footprint. No planes or trucks bringing it to market, no car fumes involved in getting it home. At Healthy Lifestyle U, you always earn extra credit for being kind to the planet.

One sobering reason home growing is taking root in the U.S. is because it’s becoming increasingly clear how tainted our Big Food supply has become.

All across the country, even people who think jicama is the name of the shortstop for the Cubs are waking up to the fact that lots of the vegetables, fruits, meats and grains we buy every day in legal grocery stores are laced with nasty additives and assorted toxins.

Change is in progress, and cleaner food means better health. But it’s not happening quickly, another reason to grab your kids and a shovel and make space for a small plot of spinach, which grows gangbusters in hot summer climates, as does kale.

Growing your own food (and let’s not forget the joy of flowers) is also a wonderful way to exercise. Garden-variety tasks such as digging, lifting, raking and planting – done mindfully and repeatedly – will make you stronger and more supple and will likely increase your longevity.

Gardening also weeds out stress. It’s a relaxing activity because it shifts your mind into a more meditative state, and that’s a very good thing to do for yourself, even if it’s just for 10 minutes a day.

Gardening gives us all of the above … and great-tasting Sweet 100 baby tomatoes, too.

Allow me to plant a few more seeds with you: injury-prevention tips to make your gardening easier and safer:

Warm Up

Avoid injuries and morning-after aches and pains, take a few minutes to warm up your muscles and juice up your joints before you put them to work in the garden. The more
you tune in and listen to your body in motion, the less likely you are
to injure it.

Protect your knees

Invest in a kneeling pad or make one out of foam or a pillow. And don’t stay in a kneeling posture too long. To keep your knees happy, stand, breathe and bend your knees from time to time.

Protect your back 

Cultivate mindfulness when it comes to all your movements. Avoid over-twisting, jerking or straining your side-body or back. The smartest tactic is keeping your back strong and flexible throughout the year – yoga and Pilates are super for that – so when you get into the garden, you’re already good to grow.

Learn to lift

Before you move a rock or lift a heavy bag of fertilizer, think about the safe way to do it. Bend at the knees, not the waist. Keep your back straight, engage your abs and lift slowly, using your legs to lift and carry the load. When carrying heavy things, keep your arms (and the load) close to your body, not out in front. If you think an object is too heavy, or a task too hard, it is. Get some help.

Bend and breathe

When you shovel dirt or spread fertilizer, remember to bend your knees and step into the action. Don’t hold your breath and stiffen up. Working in a garden is all about going with the flow. Your breath is your ally. Breathe deeply and fully when you garden and you’ll grow your energy in subtle and superb ways.

Be ergonomically correct

The more effort you put into your gardening, the more calories you burn. So go for manual clippers and trimmers, and push mowers, if possible. Use tools that are ergonomically correct, to lessen the strain. The more you’re able to work at a steady, mindful clip, the better workout it is.

Marilynn Preston is a healthy lifestyle expert, well-being coach and Emmy-winning producer. She is the creator of Energy Express, the longest-running syndicated fitness column in the country. She has a website,, and welcomes reader questions, which can be sent to



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