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  • Monika Getty

The Health Benefits of Gardening

With the world-wide pandemic going on, it seems more people are thinking about gardening, especially for growing their own food. Seed companies have reported a boom in sales, and many are so swamped they have stopped sales in order to catch up on all the back orders. With this weekend being a long weekend, many people will be going to nurseries and working up a sweat in their yards.

There are many health benefits of gardening, not just physically but mentally as well. Some of these benefits include:

Helps to control weight: Gardening is considered a moderate-intensity exercise. You can burn around 330 calories doing one hour of light gardening and yard work, more than walking at a moderate pace for the same amount of time (according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). According to a 2013 study published in the American Journal of Public Health, gardeners have a significantly lower body mass index, as well as lower chances of being overweight or obese than non-gardeners. Carrying bags of mulch, pushing a wheelbarrow, hoeing rows, digging up weeds, planting seeds, hauling equipment, shoveling manure, moving pots, lawn mowing and other gardening tasks provide a whole body workout, a 2014 review of studies published in the journal American Society for Horticultural Science found. Even better, it's exercise with a purpose: since gardening is a goal-oriented activity, it encourages you to work longer and reap more benefits of the aerobic and strengthening activity you get from gardening.

Can help lower blood pressure: 30 minutes of moderate physical activity most days of the week can prevent and control high blood pressure. The US national Heart, Lung and Blood Institute recommends gardening or raking leaves for 30-45 minutes a day as examples on how to achieve that amount. Plus it's good for your heart health as the exercise reduces your risk of heart attack and stroke.

You'll eat fresher and more nutritious food: A productive vegetable and fruit garden helps promote a better diet by supplying fresh, healthy produce. When fruits and vegetables are freshly picked, they’re at their most nutritious. Spending days on a truck, at your grocery store and then in your fridge can cause a lot of nutrient loss. According to one study, spinach can lose half of its folate content in four days depending on the storage temperature. Harvesting food fresh from the garden ensures the nutrients are at their optimum. Gardening also helps people develop a lasting habit of eating enough fruits and vegetables, according to research from the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. This is because providing more fresh vegetables makes you more likely to eat them regularly, but also by making it more likely for children to try foods they haven't eaten before, as research from the American Society for Horticultural Science suggests.

It helps to reduce stress: A study from the Netherlands involved two groups of people who were asked to complete a stressful task and found that gardening for 30 minutes after the task was completed resulted in lower cortisol levels (cortisol is the hormone associated with stress). Another study done by NASA in 2016 showed that working with plants provides serious stress relief and provides positive sensory stimulation. In their research, they found that planting and nurturing seeds, even just in small pots, lifted mood and eased stress.

Gardening can make you happier: The act of growing and nurturing plants helps boost your mood as you are out in nature, getting fresh air, exercise and some vitamin D from the sun. There’s also a scientific reason that gardening makes you happy: according to Discover Magazine, inhaling Myocbacterium vaccae (a healthy bacteria that lives in soil), can increase levels of serotonin and reduce anxiety.

It can help your brain: Besides being good exercise for your body, gardening also provides a healthy workout for your brain, suggests a 2019 study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. Researchers measured brain nerve growth factors related to memory in study participants (all seniors) before and after they created a vegetable garden, and found that their levels of brain nerve growth had increased significantly.

It's not too late to start your garden now; in our area the rule of thumb is to plant around or after May 24th (depending on the weather). Whether you have a large garden or just a few pots, reap the benefits of growing some plants and you'll be physically, mentally and emotionally on the way to better health.

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