Functional Fitness: Gardening

By Dubuque Physical Therapy Team

May 5, 2021

Written by Ben Fern, PT, MPT

Anyone who visits a physical therapist knows that you leave with homework. In the PT world, we call this a Home Exercise Program (HEP). Success with injuries oftentimes relies heavily on how well our patients comply with their HEP.

Today I want to give each of my readers a HEP… get out in the garden!

How will it help?

Improves your fitness, flexibility, and strength

Gardening is a low intensity exercise that involves numerous functional movements such as squatting, lunging, bending, pulling, pushing, lifting, and eating. You do not need an expensive gym membership or piece of exercise equipment, all you have to do is walk out the back door to your own personal workout facility… your yard! When you are done with your workout, not only will you have done all of those functional movements that we love so much in PT, but you will see the accomplishments as the garden will look better, the food will grow better, and you will taste the rewards. 


Provides a healthy reward

   Gardening does not just make you stronger, more flexible, and more fit. You also get the freshest and most healthy food available. When you grow your own food, it not only tastes better because you can pick it at the height of freshness, but it also tastes better because you grew it!


Improves your cognitive ability

   Gardening allows you to unplug from the busy, fast-paced society that we live in and allows you to:

  • slow down
  • experience nature
  • learn from all of the seasons and cycles that occur in nature
  • and clear away some of the stress of life.   

There are a million rabbit holes that you can go down (hopefully not literally!). You may start learning about new varieties of plants that you didn’t know existed. You may become interested in learning about fruit trees, or pollinators, or keeping bees, or composting. The possibilities are endless!


Gardening builds community

What are you going to do with all these veggies? Any gardener knows that a small plant in the spring can lead to abundance in the summer and fall, which is why I don’t plant zucchini… everyone has extra! Share your produce, show off your tomatoes, find someone who likes brussel sprouts (I think those people exist), and maybe take a class to meet like-minded individuals who share the same interests. 


 So your homework, from your local PT and fellow gardener, home orchardist, and beekeeper,  is to get out in your garden this year and reap the rewards.