On rare, warm days in Maine, don’t head to the gym and grab a dumbbell. Head outside, thrust a spade into the earth, drop a few seeds and plant a garden.

“Gardening is one of the best forms of strength training,” said Jessica Loney, a Brunswick-based health coach who encourages people to do things they love for physical exertion.

Everything from lugging bags of stones, to spreading mulch, to lifting a watering can “invites using different muscles of the body,” she said.

The popular hobby is the perfect form of multitasking. General gardening activities such as squatting and pulling while weeding do more than improve your yard.

“In 10 minutes, you can burn 58 calories. In 30 minutes, you are up to 175,” said Loney.

Gardening can be moderate to high in intensity depending on your approach.

“Any physical exercise is good for you, but at the end of the day, you are also producing something,” Don Sproul, executive director of Maine Landscape and Nursery Association, said.

The government-backed nonprofit recently launched Plant Something Maine, a chapter of a national program to get people to grow and landscape more. According to its website, plantsomethingmaine.com, “gardening helps maintain a healthy weight and does wonders for mental health. It’s calming, and it has been found to reduce stress, improve mood and support brain health as we age.”

Connecting with nature, versus a treadmill, stimulates the senses.

“You have the smells, the sights, the colors … the feeling of great hormones motives you to continue to move,” Loney said.

To engage diverse muscle groups, Loney suggests gardeners walk more and leave the ride-on mower in the garage.

“Any activity that has a weight-resistance component, like push mowers, use more muscles. From lifting pots, to hauling mulch, it all counts,” she said.

The American Heart Association recommends 10,000 steps per day, and you can achieve that goal by adding cardio. One tip is to garden in bursts.

“Look for increments of 10 minutes or more, which is just a few trips back to the shed,” Loney said.

And as an added bonus, the results are twofold.

“You transform an area in your home space. You can see an end product,” Loney said. “It’s not only how many calories you burn, but how you enrich the environment you live in.”

Kathleen Pierce

A lifelong journalist with a deep curiosity for what's next. Interested in food, culture, trends and the thrill of a good scoop. BDN features reporter based in Portland since 2013.