Cultivate activity

Does gardening count as a moderate workout? In the fitness world, it’s an ongoing debate. Yes, say some: The walking, bending, digging and pruning is strenuous enough to gain fitness benefits. No, say others: More vigorous movement is needed.

A recent study may put this discussion to rest, at least for older people. Researchers from Kansas State University studied the gardening habits of 14 men and women ages 63 to 86. They noted how much time the participants spent on tasks such as watering, walking, cleaning tools, weeding and harvesting. Heart rates and oxygen uptake were measured to determine how hard they worked. Standard measures that rate the intensity of physical activities were used to evaluate the work.

Activities such as digging, raking and mulching used upper and lower body muscles and scored as moderate-intensity exercise. Mixing soil and hand weeding engaged only the upper body and were scored as lower intensity. Overall, the gardeners’ activity was of moderate intensity but changed with the seasons. In logs, the gardeners reported spending 33 hours a week on average gardening in May, and 15 hours a week in June and July.

The study, published in the journal HortTechnology, noted that older people often become sedentary -- and that the dynamic qualities of gardening could help them stay active.