How many of us have piled on a few pounds over the holiday season? I know I have. How many more have pledged to join their local gym to get back into shape?

Well, if you have a garden, there is no need. The time you’d spend at the gym could be spent in your garden, and it could have the same physical benefits at a fraction of the cost.

A University of Virginia study placed gardening alongside other moderate to strenuous forms of exercise, such as cycling or walking, with benefits including improved strength and muscle tone, greater flexibility and lower blood pressure.

And think of the calories you’ll burn – 30 minutes of pushing a lawn mower will lose women over 180 calories and men 235. The same time spent weeding will burn you a further 100 or so. A half hour’s digging, while giving your back, legs and upper body a great workout, burns women 150 calories and men nearly 200.

If you are really keen, Netdoctor even has a Garden Workout plan.

Quite apart from exercise and fitness, regular gardening has been shown to contribute to improved psychological and emotional health. Studies from the University of Bristol have shown a harmless bacteria present in soil has the effect of improving your immune system while also boosting your body’s production of serotonin – a neurotransmitter associated with feelings of well-being and happiness. Separate studies have shown gardening can also lower stress levels and increase self-esteem.

So a New Year’s resolution to shape up and get fit doesn’t have to mean hundreds, if not thousands of pounds spent at the gym. Half an hour in the garden per day will result in a healthier, fitter you, and better bank balance, and a great looking garden.