There is a lot of pride in producing the best plants and flowers possible and turning your garden into contender for the local Town or Village-In-Bloom competition.

But experts say there are plenty of health benefits as well.

Mention the word fitness most people and they immediately think of the gym but spending hours pumping iron does not hold much appeal for many.

Bupa, which runs the Priory Clinic in Hove, says people can do themselves lot of good simply by spending a couple of hours in the garden.

Dr Sally Cubbin from Bupa said: "You can reap almost the same health benefits from gardening as you would from a workout the gym.

"It isn't just the body that gets healthier after gardening.

The mind and emotions can also improve."

Gardening, like other forms of moderate exercise, will help lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels if done for about minutes per day.

Exercise such as gardening has even been found help prevent type 2 (noninsulin dependent) diabetes heart disease and strokes.

Dr Mark Harries of the Royal College of Physicians agrees gardening has positive physical effects.

He said: "Physical activity always useful for the body.

it is something a person enjoys, it's even better.

means the exercise is not just a chore."

Benefits from gardening include being out in the sunshine. Sunlight helps the body make vitamin D, which essential for healthy bones and may slow the progression of osteoporosis.

To reap the physical fitness benefits of gardening, people can try a little more than just pottering about.

The most energetic activities in terms of calories used are digging and shovelling.

If you spend 30 minutes on either of these activities, you can burn up between 200 and 360 calories.

Mowing the lawn is also a high calorie burner.

Researchers have also discovered that simply walking through a beautiful sensory garden can help lower stress levels.

Dr Cubbin said: "It isn't just doing some gardening that reduces stress.

"Soaking up the colours, sounds and smells of the garden and taking time to appreciate the peace and tranquillity it can offer can also help remove tension.

"The sensory garden is thought to have the same effects on the mind as art therapy."

A survey carried out by the mental-health charity Mind found 50 per cent of people believed that physical exercise, including gardening, was one of the best activities to boost their mental health.

A spokesman for the Sussex branch of the charity said: "It sounds a simple idea but it can have enormous benefits."

The British Trust for Conservation Volunteers (BTCV) runs a Green Gym at Portslade which helps people keep fit through environmental and conservation work.

The BTCV and the former East Sussex, Brighton and Hove Authority carried out a study of a group of people suffering from mental-health problems who took part in the scheme.

Some of those taking part suffering from depression found the work helped to alleviate their symptoms and boost their confidence.

One person had lost his job due to depression and had been out of work for five years when he was referred to the gym.

The work gave him something to look forward to and gradually helped him regain enough confidence to apply for a new job - and get it.

Health bosses have issued a series of tips to make sure people garden safely.

These include stretching as much as possible between jobs and advising people to carry out a variety of tasks instead of one long job.

People should decide on a time limit and stick to it as it can be easy to get carried away and end up overdoing it.

Gardeners should always bend their knees and keep their back straight when lifting or pulling up weeds.

They should also squat down instead of bending over.

Contact the local BTCV office on 01273 691207.