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DeSimone, Grace B.A.

ACSM's Health & Fitness Journal: May/June 2016 - Volume 20 - Issue 3 - p 4
doi: 10.1249/FIT.0000000000000197
Departments: Fitness Focus

As the national group fitness director for Optum, Grace DeSimone, B.A., and her group fitness teams manage group exercise classes in worksite wellness programs across the country. She serves on the Executive Council of ACSM's Committee on Certification and Registry Boards. She also is the editor for ACSM's Resource Manual for Group Exercise Instructors (2011) and a regular guest on the RadioMD Train Your Body program. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Dance from Hunter College, CUNY, in New York, NY, and is certified by ACSM as a group exercise instructor and personal trainer.

Whether you have a backyard vegetable garden or several acres of land, a health-promoting workout can be found in every yard. You can gain some cardiovascular benefits from activities such as pushing a mower and raking, whereas digging and weed pulling can act as resistance exercises. Tiptoeing through the tulips and walking on uneven surfaces will provide some balance training opportunities to boot. All of that pulling and pushing add up to some great physical activity. Look at the calories you can burn (Approximate caloric expenditures based on a 175-lb person. If you weigh more, you will burn more calories; if you weigh less, you will burn less calories.):

Activity Calories Burned Per Hour

General gardening 239

Raking 262

Pushing a power mower 358

Weeding 278

Digging and composting 318

Trimming shrubs manually 278

Like all physical activity pursuits, your goal is to start slowly and gradually. Begin with moderate activities like raking and watering, then move on to more strenuous activities such as lifting and digging once you have increased your stamina.

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Long before mind-body fitness became fashionable, gardeners understood the zen of nurturing their harvest. Gardening relieves stress through the quiet focus of communing with nature. In a complex world, the simple act of planting seeds and watching them grow is therapeutic. Use this opportunity to practice some meditative breathing. Sit on a chair or bench in good posture. Place your feet flat on the ground and your hands on your lap. Inhale through your nose as you count up to four; pause at the top of your breath and slowly exhale through your mouth as you count down from four. Repeat, each time adding a count until you reach a count of eight. This will help relax your mind and body and make an excellent pregardening or postgardening ritual.

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  • Warm-up. Walk around your garden for a few minutes to get your circulation in gear. Warming up helps prepare muscles and joints for activity and reduces the risk for injury.
  • Get limber. Because you will be using the large muscles in your back, shoulders, and legs, be sure to spend some time stretching these areas before, during, and after gardening.
  • Mix it up. Change your position every few minutes and if possible change your activity every 15 minutes or so. Do a little weeding, a little raking, some mowing, some digging, and so on.
  • Happy feet. Wear proper supportive footwear. Be cautious of slippery or uneven terrain.
  • Break it up. Avoid marathon planting or digging expeditions. These are surefire ways to muscle and joint aches and pains.
  • Cool tools. Choose ergonomic gardening tools. These specially designed tools help reduce repetitive stress syndromes that face some avid gardeners. They offer a variety of features including lightweight construction, swiveling handles, and longer-handled tools, which allow you to work with less back strain from bending.
  • Practice good form. Bend your knees when reaching down or picking up.
  • Get a grip. Exercise equal opportunity gripping. Alternate your grip (switch sides) when raking, digging, or hoeing. This promotes muscle balance and coordination.
  • Protect yourself. Wear gloves to avoid calluses. Wear sunglasses and a hat, apply sunscreen, and drink plenty of water. Avoid midday gardening when the sun is strongest.
  • Twist and shout. Avoid twisting while lifting or twisting while reaching. This is a common means to a painful end. Take the time to pick things up straight on.
© 2016 American College of Sports Medicine.