What do you envision when you think of great workouts? Burpees, squats, jumping rope? We're 99 percent sure you didn't picture weed pulling, mulching, and digging. Well, hang on to your pruning shears, because gardening—according to new findings by South Korean researchers—offers moderate- to high-intensity exercise to people of all age groups.
The study, conducted by a team from Seoul's Konkuk University and published in the journal HortTechnology, sought to address a gaping hole in the canon of gardening-as-exercise research, namely that virtually all the previous studies citing gardening's physical benefits have been done on gray-haired subjects and not on younger ones.
The Konkuk researchers gathered six male and nine female university students in their twenties and had them perform 10 common gardening tasks. The subjects wore heart-rate monitors and portable telemetric calorimeters, a device with a face mask that measures things like oxygen uptake and calories burnt. The physical data collected was then used to calculate the MET (metabolic equivalent of task) value of each gardening job. (MET value is a standardized measure of the energy cost and thus physical intensity of an activity. One MET is equal to the energy expended by an individual seated at rest; an activity with a MET value of two means it requires twice the energy of just sitting.)
After crunching all the numbers, the team found that among all the students, the 10 gardening tasks had MET values between 3.5 and 6. Activities above a MET value of 3 are considered moderate intensity. Watering, for example, had a MET value of 3.9, a number slightly above that of golfing (MET value 3.75). Weeding was more intense, with a MET value of 5, making it comparable to doing the elliptical trainer at moderate effort. Mulching earned a 4.5, which is higher than yoga at 4. Not surprisingly, digging was the king of gardening exercises, with a MET value of 6.3, putting it on roughly the same level as weightlifting, vigorous rowing on the ergometer, water skiing, and standup paddle boarding (all 6 on the scale).
Now, if you're planning to do a marathon, or even one of those loony obstacle-course races, we're not suggesting you scrap your training regimen and replace it with hours of floral arranging. But you can now think of gardening as exercise—so get out there and pump some daffodils.