Many view gardening as a pleasurable way to pass an afternoon, but new research suggests that it may also be good for health.
Swedish scientists found that a regular dose of heavy gardening could help to boost fitness in middle age and ward off premature death.
Their study, which followed more than 2,200 over-50s for a 32-year period, found that those who did at least three hours of heavy gardening or other strenuous activity every week lived for 2.3 years longer, on average, than those who led a sedentary lifestyle.
The findings are published in the online version of the British Medical Journal and suggest that the increased physical activity provided by regular gardening "has the same impact on lowering mortality rate in the long-term as smoking cessation", according to the study authors.
An expert at the British Heart Foundation reiterated the key message of the study, pointing out that being physically active at any age "helps control your weight, reduce blood pressure and cholesterol and will provide long-term benefits for your heart health".