A large US study has found gardening is the best form of exercise for maintaining healthy bones.The US study, by Dr Sara Fenn and colleagues at the University of Arkansas, looked at the health habits of over 40,000 women, including more than 3,000 aged 50 years and older. Those in the 47 plus age group that gardened at least once a week showed higher bone density measurements than those who regularly did other kinds of exercise.
The researchers were surprised to find that gardening had such a strong effect. "We hadn't expected yard work to be significant," said Dr Fenn. "But there's a lot of weight-bearing motion going on in the garden, digging holes, pulling weeds, pushing a mower."She speculated that being outdoors might add to the bone-strengthening effects, since sunlight stimulates production of vitamin D which helps the body absorb dietary calcium.
Weight-bearing exercise is any activity that requires the bones to fully support the body's weight, such as jogging, dancing and weight training. Gardening and weight training were the only exercises found to significantly improve bone density in the age group studied. Jogging has also been found to be effective in other studies, but is much less popular than gardening, said Dr Fenn. Nearly half the women in the study said they gardened on a weekly basis.