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 your Christmas 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 to strip your tree, 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 – enough to justify three glasses of champagne.
Swabbing the decks
Swabbing has taken on something of a different meaning in the past 20 months, but 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; the equivalent of a 70g helping of brandy butter.
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: a well-deserved half bottle of red wine.
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 – the equivalent of a slice of Christmas cake (or just over half a kilogram of Brussels sprouts – you choose).
According to Gareth Allen, personal trainer and owner of Studio Twenty 3 (studiotwenty3.co.uk), 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 (drapertools.com) 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.