Weight Loss Success with Gardening

How to Shed Pounds Without a Gym Membership

You’ve tried training at the local gym, but it’s just not your thing. Using those machines is too boring, or maybe you just don’t want to drive across town several times a week. For whatever reason, the gym isn’t helping you achieve your weight loss goals. Plus, that membership isn’t cheap.

What you really want is some kind of exercise that’s convenient and enjoyable. An activity that feels rewarding in its own right — not just running nowhere on a treadmill. And it has to give you a good cardio workout to burn that fat.

If you’ve been wanting to start a garden or spend more time in the one you already have, then good news! Grab a packet of seeds and kiss the gym goodbye. Here’s how you can meet all your goals at once.


Garden Cardio?

First, we should mention that gardening won’t enable you to bench press your own weight in iron dumbbells. If that’s your goal, you might have to start dead-lifting your lawn mower or something. (On second thought, just keep the gym membership.)

Garden activities, especially the rhythmic exercise of hoeing, can provide an aerobic workout. It’s similar to walking briskly on a treadmill or using a rowing machine on the lightest setting.

You might not think this type of exercise would make you stronger, but over time it really does increase your strength and stamina. And of course, the immediate result is that it gets your heart rate up, raises your metabolism, and burns calories!


What Cardio Does for You

Have we talked yet about why you would even want to start a cardio routine? Okay, listen up: It makes your body better in a million ways.

Regular cardiovascular exercise strengthens your heart muscle, which improves blood flow to your brain — lowering your risk of stroke and possibly reducing your need for coffee to think clearly. (Wait–nah–let’s drink the coffee anyway.) Better circulation in your skin gives you a clearer complexion.

Regular cardio workouts lead to a healthier pancreas and better blood sugar control, reducing your chance of Type 2 diabetes.

And of course, cardio burns calories, which helps you get rid of body fat. It also increases sexual arousal in both genders. (You read that right.)

When you’re just starting a cardio routine, you’ll want to exercise for 10 minutes a day, 5 days a week. As you gain stamina, you can increase that to 30-45 minutes, 5-6 days a week. (Thanks, Cleveland Clinic, for giving us the medical scoop.) I personally prefer bigger blocks, like 2 hours per session, 3 days a week. I didn’t look that up on any medical website though, so check with your doctor or something.

Personally, I just know that “garden cardio” is the best way I’ve ever found to lose fat. (Well, besides nursing a baby a dozen times a day for two years. That works equally well for weight loss, but if you like sleeping all night long, then I’d recommend the garden workout instead.)

The nice thing about hoeing in your garden is that you can go at a pace that’s comfortable for you. Want to work at a leisurely rate and enjoy the spring sunshine? That’s just fine; think of it as “garden tai chi.” Want to whiz down the rows and really work up a sweat? Choose your own adventure!


Garden Layout and Size

Ready to turn up a patch of sod? (You weren’t using that section of lawn anyway. Whoever has to mow it will thank you.)

Plan your garden area with wide paths between rows of plants. This will give you plenty of room to swing a hoe. We’re talking about a traditional in-ground garden with long rows, not a raised bed.

Your plot needs to be big enough to keep you busy, working at a moderate pace, for 10-30 minutes per session. That way you’ll get a good workout.

What size garden is right for you? If you’re new to this type of exercise, start small. Try an area that’s 100 feet square. You can always add another row when you’re ready for a bigger challenge.

My garden was about 2,000 square feet, but that’s at least twice as much as I needed to keep me very busy. I had the plot so spread out because 1) I wasn’t irrigating it, so each plant needed to control a big space to get all the water it needed and 2) the neighbor guy brought over his tractor and tilled it up for free, so what the heck.

I REALLY MISS that garden. These days, I live in a city and grow my plants in raised beds. The problem is that maintaining these raised beds is virtually effortless, so I don’t get the exercise I need. Argh. What were we talking about?



You’re going to need a hoe. But don’t worry, a quality hoe is fun to use (yes, really!).

But this is the most important thing. If you want your garden workout to be fun, then AVOID LIKE THE PLAGUE those clunky mass-produced tools you see in all the hardware stores. They are exhausting to use and get dull fast, turning the work into drudgery. Using those awful things is like driving a broken-down car with the muffler dragging on the pavement. Nothing fun about it.

What you want is an elegant tool that glides through the soil like it’s chocolate mousse, leaving decapitated weeds in its wake. (Orgasmic, right?)

Quality tools are ergonomically designed to feel comfortable in your hands and to hold a sharp edge. Rogue Hoe and Johnny’s Selected Seeds are two American companies that offer garden tools of this quality (I LOVE THEM and they’re not even paying me to say that).

The cost is less than you might expect. When you include the price of shipping, it might cost about double the price of those horrible hardware store tools. And think about this — it’s the cheapest piece of exercise equipment you’ll ever buy. Probably cost you less than a one-month gym membership.


Push-Pull Hoes

Buy yourself a scuffle or collinear hoe. (You only need one, but watch out — collecting garden tools is addictive.)

Just watch some YouTube videos and pick a style that appeals to you. Both the scuffle and collinear hoes are easy and comfortable to use. You hold

them lightly, thumbs up, without much downward pressure. This allows you to stand upright and work your arm muscles.

The scuffle hoe is used with a push-pull motion, whisking the triangular blade just under the top layer of soil to slice weeds at their roots. (Nothing at all like the chopping motion we all imagine when we think of using a hoe.) A collinear hoe is used the same way, but it has one sharp edge instead of three.

Both of them can clear large areas of ground very quickly without straining your back, as long as you maintain good form. Stand comfortably upright and use the muscles in your arms; resist the temptation to lean over and “put your back into it.”

(Note: Do not get a stirrup/hula hoe. With those, you really do have to lean forward and apply downward pressure, and your back won’t thank you.)



Grow anything you like! Vegetables, flowers, and herbs are all good choices.

You may find that it’s the most fun to hoe around large, upright plants such as dahlias or corn. Small plants require short, careful strokes of the hoe, or you risk maiming one of your babies. Big plants don’t require such a delicate touch. You can whisk that hoe fearlessly and speed down the rows at a pace that will raise your heart rate.

Cultivating potatoes is an especially good way to get exercise because the rows need to be hilled up frequently throughout the summer.

To do this, you’ll need a more traditional style of hoe that’s designed to move dirt. The method

is to scrape soil from the path between rows and pull it up around the base of the plant, giving it more material to set tubers into.

This work isn’t difficult, but you may find it slower and more tiring than just hoeing weeds. If your garden consists entirely of potatoes, you might like to start with a smaller plot. On the other hand, the more calories you burn, the faster you’ll crush your weight loss goals!



Site your garden in a convenient spot close to your house so you can easily step out for bit of work on sunny days. The joy of seeing your weed-free

garden will inspire you to visit it often (and maybe bring some friends or family, for bragging purposes).


Garden Your Way to Weight Loss

So there you have it. If your membership at the athletic club is getting you nowhere with your weight loss goals, try this real-world activity instead. A backyard (or front yard!) garden gives you the chance to work up a sweat without the commute, and to enjoy fresh air and sunshine. If you like gardening at all, I think you’ll agree that garden cardio is way more fun than walking a treadmill.

I find that the blissful feeling of growing healthy plants motivates me to go out and get some exercise so much more often than I would ever go to a gym. Try it! I think you’ll find that your yard–and your physique–will look fantastic.


  1. What a fun, useful way to work on weight loss! I used to have a large garden as well, surprisingly, when I lived in the city.
    Now that I have a rural property, I have a few raised beds for vegetables – too many rocks to dig up the land without a tractor. The front flower gardens give me a decent enough workout.

    I had no idea hoes were meant to cut weeds. I thought they were just to move dirt around to airate the soil. 😬

    I’ll have to invest in a better hoe, now that I know what they’re meant for!!

    • Hi Danielle, thanks for visiting 🙂 Being garden-less is as painful losing a pet, isn’t it?? I signed up for plots at a couple of community gardens this year. Would that be an option for you?

  2. Jacquelyn

    This article inspires me to go out and pull some weeds! I also didn’t know that hoes were used for weeding. Using a hoe would probably help me to beat back the jungle, which is always trying to take over my yard!

    • Hi Jacquelyn, thanks for stopping by 🙂 Standing upright and using a scuffle hoe is much easier on your back and knees than traditional weeding! And if you have a literal jungle on your hands, it’s really your only hope of staying ahead of those weeds. I don’t know how weeds take over the garden so fast — they can only move at the speed of plants, right?!

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