Econundrum: Which Gardening Moves Burn Most Calories?

| Mon Apr. 5, 2010 4:30 AM EDT

Last weekend, when I finally ventured into my backyard garden after a long El Niño winter of rain, I knew it wasn't going to be a pretty sight. But I was not prepared for just how bad things had gotten. A few years back, Alan Weisman wrote a great book called The World Without Us, about what might happen to the planet if humanity suddenly vanished. He could have used my backyard as a visual. "Messy" would be a major understatement: Rosemary forest. Compost pile taken over by spindly weeds. Waist-high grasses, grown so thick I couldn't even see the edges of the vegetable bed. Cat poop everywhere.

So I have my work cut out for me. Which is not necessarily a bad thing, considering the long winter has meant I've done a lot of sitting around, and all that weeding will be a good workout. Just ask gardening exercise guru Jeffrey Restuccio, who has written two books on the fitness advantages of yardwork. "To me the greatest benefit of eating organic food is not the food itself," says Restuccio. "It's the exercise that you get growing that food."  He's also developed a series of moves that maximize the fitness benefits of gardening. (The lunge-and-weed looks especially awesome.)

With the help of the University of South Carolina School of Public Health's Compendium of Physical Activities, Restuccio estimated the amount of calories burned during half an hour of common gardening activities. Unsurprisingly, turns out that in general, activities that require less power from the grid are also a much better workout. For example:

Mowing:

Ride-on mower: 101 calories
Push mower with motor: 182 calories
Push mower: 243 calories

Trimming:

Power shears: 142 calories
Manual shears: 182 calories

Weeding is also pretty good exercise, at 182 calories burned in a half hour. Restuccio doesn't calculate how many calories you'd burn applying a chemical weed killer, but I'm guessing it's pretty similar to watering, which burns only 61 calories. (One exception to the greener gardening=better exercise rule: "gardening with heavy power tools," which burns a whopping 243 calories, presumably because the tools are, well, heavy.)

Full list of 18 gardening activities and calories burned:
 

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Watering lawn: 61

Mowing lawn (ride-on): 101

Trimming shrubs (power): 142

Raking: 162

Bagging leaves: 162

Planting seedlings: 182

Mowing (push with motor): 182

Planting trees: 182

Snow thrower (walking): 182

Trimming shrubs (manual): 182

Weeding: 182

Clearing land: 202

Digging, spading, tilling: 202

Laying sod: 202

Chopping wood: 202

Gardening with heavy power tools: 243

Mowing lawn (push manual): 243

Double digging: 344

For more on gardening for exercise, visit Restuccio's site