Digging the garden for an hour a week can help lengthen life, study suggests

But best benefit comes when people engage in both aerobic and muscle-strengthening exercises.

28 February 2022

An hour a week of heavy gardening could help reduce a person’s risk of premature death, a new study suggests.

Taking part in muscle-strengthening activities such as lifting weights, resistance training or gardening activities including digging and shovelling for 30 to 60 minutes each week has been linked to a reduced risk of premature death and some major diseases.

But researchers said that people reap the most benefits when they participate in aerobic activity and muscle-strengthening activities.

According to UK physical activity guidelines, muscle-strengthening activities can include carrying heavy shopping bags, yoga, pilates, tai chi, lifting weights, working with resistance bands doing exercises that use your own body weight such as push-ups and sit-ups, heavy gardening such as digging and shovelling, wheeling a wheelchair or lifting and carrying children.

It is recommended that adults do strengthening activities that work all the major muscle groups at least two days a week as well as taking part in at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity each week.

The latest study, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, saw experts from Japan conduct a review of 16 studies which examined the effect muscle-strengthening exercises had on the risk of death and major diseases including cardiovascular disease (CVD), cancer and diabetes.

The team found that muscle-strengthening activities were linked to:

– a 15% lower risk of death during the follow-up period of the studies included in the analysis.
– a 17% lower risk of cardiovascular disease.
– a 12% lower risk of cancer.
– A 17% lower incidence of diabetes.
– But associations were not seen with some specific cancers such as bowel cancer, kidney, bladder and pancreatic cancers.

The researchers found that the “maximum” benefit for protection against early death as well as some of these major diseases was seen when people participated in 30 to 60 minutes of muscle-strengthening activity every week.

Further analysis found that greater benefit was achieved when people took part in both muscle-strengthening and aerobic activity such as brisk walking, jogging or cycling.

The authors of the study wrote: “Muscle-strengthening activities were associated with a 10–17% lower risk of CVD, total cancer, diabetes, lung cancer and all-cause mortality independent of aerobic activities among adults.

“The maximum risk reduction for all-cause mortality, CVD and total cancer was obtained at approximately 30–60 minutes/week of muscle-strengthening activities, and the risk of diabetes sharply decreased until 60 minutes/week of muscle-strengthening activities, followed by a gradual decrease.”

They added: “Combined muscle-strengthening and aerobic activities were associated with a lower risk of all-cause, CVD and total cancer mortality.”

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