Is it finally Spring? It’s been a long winter, and I am ready to get outside and dig in my garden. I love the smell of freshly tilled dirt, the feel of the warm soil in my hands, and the anticipation of another bountiful year of fresh vegetables.
Is it finally Spring? It’s been a long winter, and I am ready to get outside and dig in my garden. I love the smell of freshly tilled dirt, the feel of the warm soil in my hands, and the anticipation of another bountiful year of fresh vegetables. There is nothing better than raiding the garden for just-picked supper ingredients or a quick snack. But if you are not sure gardening is your thing, following are some health benefits that might convince you to give it a try.
Stress relief. The sights, smells and sounds of working outdoors can help relax us. We use “involuntary attention” to do our work, which helps lower blood pressure and decrease stress hormones. Studies have shown that hospital patients that have a view of a garden or pretty landscape spend less time in the hospital and are less stressed during their stay.
Exercise. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention classifies gardening as a moderate cardiovascular exercise. Forty-five minutes of gardening is equal to about 30 minutes of aerobic exercise. In addition to cardio, gardening can help with stretching, strengthening and balance. Gardening is also an automatic reminder to exercise, since it won’t take care of itself.
Better mental health. Gardening can improve symptoms of depression. Fresh air, sunshine, exercise and Vitamin D all can help to improve mood. Some scientists believe that a certain bacteria commonly found in soil can help boost serotonin levels in our bodies, which helps relieve depression.
Improved immunity. It’s possible that we have become too clean and sanitized. Contact with the soil and the friendly bacteria it contains can help strengthen our immune system. Exposure to local pollens and soil bacteria can help lessen asthma and allergy symptoms.
Decreased dementia risk. Two separate studies showed a 36 percent to 47 percent decrease in the risk of dementia in gardeners compared to those who don’t garden. Gardening can be a soothing activity for those who do have dementia.
Healthy kids. Kids who help garden are more likely to try new foods and eat more fruits and vegetables. Gardening also can teach valuable skills like math, learning where food comes from, nutrition of foods, and patience. Gardening with kids is a good way to sneak in some more physical activity and just spend some time together talking.
Better nutrition. Food can’t get any fresher than plucking it right from the garden. The food tastes better and is at the optimal nutrition when you pick it. Learn to preserve your bounty and you can benefit all year long. Plus, gardeners tend to eat more fruits and vegetables than non-gardeners.
Economics. With the continual rise in food prices, growing some of your own food is a good way to save on the grocery bill. There’s a certain satisfaction knowing that you can feed yourself and not have to rely on the grocery stores, should something catastrophic happen. Plus if your thumb is especially green, you can make a little extra income by selling your excess.
Giving back to nature. Gardening is an invitation for bees, birds and butterflies to inhabit your yard, all of which are beneficial to our environment. Gardens also encourage recycling of organic matter, like grass clippings and leaves. You can reduce your weekly trash by starting a compost pile or mulching the garden with newspapers.
Don’t have an area to start a garden? Container gardening might be an option. You can grow quite a bit of food in five gallon buckets or pots. Perhaps a community garden is the answer. Community gardens let you socialize with your neighbors, help bring all generations together, and allows the less experienced gardeners to benefit from those with more experience.
Plant something and reap the benefits of better health.
Anita Marlay, R.D., L.D., is a dietitian in the cardiac rehab department at Lake Regional Health System in Osage Beach, Mo.