Winter days are much shorter and colder, yes – but it’s a myth that gardening stops: there are a number of jobs that can be done in readiness for spring.
Additionally, since the mental health benefits of exercise and time outside are well known, exerting yourself in the garden is a sure-fire way to stave off the winter blues - and, as an added bonus, the calorie burn from doing those outside jobs will help to offset any recent indulgences.
Bear in mind that calorie burn will vary according to age, height and gender.
How to burn calories in the garden
Some plants lend themselves best to pruning when they are dormant: for instance, most types of roses, apples, pears and clematis. Take care of these in the winter and they will flower more abundantly in the spring - plus, pruning for an hour will burn around 280 calories.
While many other growing things are dormant, it’s a sad fact of gardening that a little thing like winter doesn’t stop the weeds. Tackle them for an hour and not only will your flower beds thank you, but your waistline will as well, with 300 calories burned.
Although evergreens should really only be cut back in spring, deciduous hedges - for example, hornbeam, hawthorn and purple beech - are fine to do in winter, and will grow back stronger in the spring. Trim your hedges for an hour and you’ll melt around 400 calories.
Raking & bagging
Fallen leaves can quickly make a winter garden look untidy and unkempt. Avoid noisy leaf blowers and put some muscle into the task by wielding a rake - you’ll burn around 320 calories in an hour’s work.
Planting a hedge
As long as the ground isn’t waterlogged or frozen, winter is an ideal time to plant new hedges: because the plants are in a resting state, they can just focus on establishing their roots, rather than putting out new growth. An hour of planting blasts approximately 300 calories.
Now’s the time to put all of your tools and workspaces through a thorough maintenance routine, ready for the madness of spring. Sterilise pots and spades; sharpen secateurs and spades and tidy up your shed. Not only will you be wiping out bacteria and fungus, but also around 240 calories in an hour.
Planting trees & shrubs
Colder months are ideal for planting for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that moister soil, caused by regular rainfall, helps roots to expand and find nutrients. There’s less competition for water and food, too, since there are fewer weeds around - meaning that newly-planted trees and shrubs can establish themselves before having to compete against these garden villains. Digging torches approximately 500 calories in an hour, and planting around 320.
This is a task for later in the season, when you can trap in the moisture that the wet months have provided. Branches cut from fir trees are useful for this job, and have the advantage of being easy to remove when the weather warms up - alternatively, if you have the patience, you can use the pine needles and later work them into the soil for their nutritional benefits. Other bonuses? You’re likely to burn around 350 calories over an hour.
Swabbing the decks
Swabbing has taken on something of a different meaning in the past two years, this type is gag-free. Well, if you get to it in time, that is: otherwise you may have slick, swampy green sludge to contend with, which is a slip-hazard. You could, of course, hire a pressure washer to deal with your patio, paving or decking, but putting in the elbow grease with soapy water and a scrubbing brush will use up about 400 calories.
Winter is an ideal time to lay turf: members of your household are less likely to spend time on the grass, which means that it will have time to settle and take root before the party and barbecue traffic of warmer weather. Better yet, although you can’t lay turf on frozen ground, frost won’t do freshly-laid turf any harm. As for the effort involved, the job will use around 320 calories in an hour.
If you’ve played your sowing cards right, you’ll be feasting on kale, broccoli, leeks, parsnips, cauliflower and, of course, Brussels sprouts, all winter. Picking crops packs a substantial punch in terms of health and wellbeing: as well as eating homegrown, zero miles food, you’ll also be using up about 250 calories in an hour.
According to Gareth Allen, personal trainer and owner of Studio Twenty 3, gardening falls into the category of ‘NEAT’ - Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis. This, he explains, is burning calories through movement outside of structured exercise and accounts for 15 to 20 per cent of our daily calorie expenditure, unlike EAT (Exercise Activity Thermogenesis) which tends to account only for about 5 per cent.
“We walk, stand and climb stairs every day,” he says. “We don’t necessarily work out every day, and some gardening jobs are actually very strenuous.” Working alongside Draper Tools for a study on how effective gardening can be for fitness, compared to a gym workout, Allen advises gardeners against “planning to do too much in one day. You should also schedule regular breaks, stay hydrated and not spend too long in one position - bedding plants, for example.” He also recommends stretching at the end of a gardening session to help the body recover.
This article is kept updated with the latest information.