Gardening: Make Your New Year's Resolutions Work Harder in 2012

09/01/2012 10:05 GMT | Updated 10/03/2012 10:12 GMT

Want to lose weight? Have more fun? Get more creative? Improve body and mind?

Achieve it all by taking up gardening this year.

Gardening is the perfect way for you to achieve your recommended 30 minutes of exercise per day, lose weight and tone up. You're also creating something beautiful and rewarding at the end of it (I mean the garden; not the body!). It's even been proven scientifically that smelling roses and pulling up weeds can lower blood pressure, increase brain activity and produce a general upbeat feeling. According to the University of Virginia, gardening rates up there with other moderate to strenuous forms of exercise, like walking and bicycling. And if you're like me, the garden won't fill you with dread like the gym does! See the MyGardenSchool schematic of how many calories you burn doing gardening activity (per hour).

If you look at serious gardeners, they almost always have the most amazing bodies due to the regularity, and diversity of movements they use. So you won't just lose weight through gardening, you'll also tone up. This is because whilst you're being creative in the garden, you are also working all the major muscle groups: legs, buttocks, arms, shoulders, neck, back and abdomen. Gardening tasks that use these muscles absolutely can't help but build strength and burn calories.

We're also told that people who are physically active reduce their risk of developing major chronic diseases, such as coronary heart disease, strokes and type two diabetes, by up to 50% and the risk of premature death by about 20% to 30%.

Besides the exertion involved, gardening has other advantages that make it a good way to exercise and burn calories. There can be a great deal of stretching involved with gardening, like reaching for weeds or tall branches, bending to plant and extending a rake. Lifting bags of mulch, pushing wheelbarrows and shovelling all provide resistance training similar to weight lifting, which leads to healthier bones and joints. Yet there is minimal jarring and stress on the body, unlike aerobics or jogging.

Even just looking at a garden can give you a positive boost. The evidence is so compelling that the health factor has been named - horticultural therapy - and is being used to treat hospital patients, plan cities and even to calm prisoners in jails.

Gardening or horticultural therapists are also being used by the world's major cities such as Chicago to help plan parks and botanical gardens. Their patients are invited to join in the weeding, pruning, cultivating and harvesting. In fact New York's notorious Rikers Island Jail is using horticultural therapy to calm prisoners and prepare them for their release.

Dr Roger Ulrich, a leading researcher on the effects of environment on behaviour from Texas A&M University, said: "If researchers had proposed 20 years ago that gardens and gardening could improve medical outcomes they would have been met with derision and scepticism.

"We now have studies showing that psychological and environmental factors can affect psychological systems and health status."

A number of experiments have led scientists to reach their conclusions. In one - reported in the Journal of Environment Psychology - researchers took 112 young, stressed-out adults and split them into two groups. The first sat in a room with a view of trees and then strolled through a garden. The other sat in a windowless room and then walked in an urban environment. The group that relaxed in the garden showed decreases in blood pressure and a positive change in feelings.

Researcher Dr Terry Hartig, from the University of California in Irvine, said: "Some of the changes could be measured within minutes."

More Health Benefits of Gardening

Research is showing that gardening for just 30 minutes daily will help:

• Increase flexibility

• Strengthen joints

• Decrease blood pressure and cholesterol levels

• Lower your risk for diabetes

• Slow osteoporosis

If you're not sure where to start, or simply want to hone your horticultural skills, we'd love to see you in the MyGardenShool online classrooms, where you'll learn about gardening and horticulture with other like minded people from all over the world. We look forward to seeing your before and after photos on the MyGardenSchool Facebook page.