Guest Blogger, Maria Cannon
Regardless of whether you grow flowers or vegetables, gardening can help to improve your health in a variety of ways. Working in the garden has spiritual rewards, eases stress, improves your mood, and provides exercise. In addition, gardening vegetables gives you access to fresh, healthy produce. It’s clear to see that gardening positively affects your life in every aspect.
Being able to get your hands dirty while digging and actually creating something can provide some people with a spiritual calmness. According to Rodale’s Organic Life, “mounting evidence shows that a number of health and behavior problems, including anxiety and depression, are directly linked to the amount of time you spend outside.” Gardening is a sensory experience that connects people to nature, which is great for stress relief. In fact, one study suggests that gardening can promote relief from acute stress.
Our lives are constantly in motion, and sometimes we forget to take time to slow down and relax. However, experts say that humans have a limited capacity for the directed attention required by our constant need to be plugged into tablets, computers, and phones. When that capacity gets used up, we become irritable, distracted, and stressed. To combat this attention fatigue, we need to replenish ourselves by engaging in an activity that requires an effortless form of attention. Gardening is considered one such activity, and thus reduces stress.
According to one study, gardening can also improve depression symptoms. Depression brings a whole host of other issues, including changes in sleeping and eating habits that negatively impact overall health. Additionally, around 30 percent of people diagnosed with a mental illness will abuse either alcohol or drugs. Keeping your mental health in check helps to keep your overall health in check too.
Gardening gets you out in the fresh air and sunshine and gets your blood flowing. There are a variety of different movements in gardening, so you get some exercise benefits as well. Since people find gardening to be pleasurable and see it as reaching a goal (having food to eat or increasing their home’s curb appeal), they are more likely to stick with it. This is because when exercise has a context, it reinforces you to keep at it. Many duties of yard work fall under gardening, so it can be adapted to fit your individual needs.
Light gardening – such as weeding, digging, and planting – are great for strength or stretching exercises. Since light gardening is a low-impact exercise, people who find more vigorous exercise to be challenging, such as the elderly, disabled, or chronic pain sufferers, may find gardening to be exactly what they need. On the flip side, some gardening can be an intense workout. Cutting down and digging up bushes, hauling wheelbarrows of dirt, and push mowing your lawn are sure to give you a full-body workout and increase your heart rate.
Brain Health & Nutrition
Gardening can be good for your brain. Some research suggests that maintenance of physical activity, especially daily gardening, can help lower the risk of developing dementia by 34 percent when compared to non-gardeners. This held true even when a range of other health factors were taken into account.
Several studies have also shown that gardeners eat more fruits and vegetables than those who don’t grow gardens, and those healthy eating habits are passed on to their children. Not only do the children eat more fruits and vegetables, but they’re also more adventurous about trying new foods. The food you grow yourself is the freshest food you can eat, and because home gardens are typically filled with fruits and vegetables, it’s also full of healthy foods. Also, the fresher the food, the more tasteful the food, so food straight from your garden is packed with intense and enjoyable flavors.
“Most of us can roll up our sleeves with a surprisingly small amount of effort. Remember, you can start small, even with just a single plant or two,” says Good Housekeeping. If you lack space, start a garden in containers. If you lack experience, start with plants that easier to maintain and require little effort, such as lettuce and carrots. The Internet and bookstores are full of resources for gardeners of all levels.
You can also check to see if you have a local garden club or community garden near you, and you can learn straight from experienced gardeners. This spring, start reaping the many benefits of gardening.