My mom and grandma are two of the best gardeners I know; they spent countless hours in the garden turning the soil, planting seeds and starts, weeding, watering, and keeping their plants happy with organic fertilizers. In the summer, the fruits and veggies harvested from their gardens fill our plates, and we always have fresh bouquets of beautiful flowers to put in the center of the dinner table. Besides their love of plants, my mom and grandma share another important quality – they are also two of the healthiest women I know. My mom never gets sick, is always bursting with energy, and can outrun me any day. My grandmother is 82, yet from her strength and energy you would never guess she was in her eighties.
You have probably known some gardeners like this – people who live long, healthy lives, spending their days outside happily digging in the dirt. But is gardening actually good for you, or is it just a coincidence? In one study, people with a garden scored better on measures of health and well-being compared to control group without the gardens, particularly in the age group over 62. It turns out that gardening offers some amazing benefits to your health; starting your own garden might teach you how to relieve stress, get more exercise, eat better, and stay healthier and happier into old age.
There are many reasons why spending time gardening can benefit your health. Gardeners tend to:
Stay active. Gardeners are constantly moving. Whether it is pushing a wheelbarrow, digging with a shovel, or pulling up weeds on your hands and knees, gardening is not easy; it requires a lot of energy and strength, and it can be exhausting. Gardening is considered a moderate intensity exercise, with gardeners reporting higher levels of physical activity than people who don’t garden. Getting regular physical activity is one of the most important ways to stay in optimal health, especially as you age. Older people who garden tend to have better balance, fewer functional limitations, and experience fewer falls than non-gardeners. Instead of taking a walk or hitting the gym, try breaking a sweat the old fashioned way by heading out to the garden.
Get more vitamin D. Something we all need to do more is get outside and into the sun. Safe sun exposure boosts our vitamin D levels. Vitamin D can help treat high blood pressure, depression, fatigue, and more. High levels of vitamin D are linked to lower mortality rates and reduced risk of cancer, as well.[4,5] Gardening is a great way to increase your vitamin D exposure; people who garden at least an hour a week have a lower likelihood of having a deficiency in vitamin D.
Eat better. Growing your own food is one of the easiest ways you can guarantee a fresher, greener, healthier diet. During the summer, we eat fresh salads out of the garden every night made with our own lettuce, spinach, kale, cucumbers, zucchini, carrots, onions, and more. The more fruits and vegetables you eat, the healthier you will be – fruit and vegetable consumption protects from a variety of diseases and is associated with reduced all-cause and cardiovascular mortality. People who participate in community gardens tend to have more healthy diets full of fruits and veggies[8,9] and have lower BMI’s than non-gardeners.
Relieve stress. If you need tips for how to relieve stress, look no further than your backyard. Many people who garden do it because they enjoy it, and they say that gardening helps them to relax and escape from daily hassles. In several studies, gardening is associated with stress-relieving effects. In one study, people were exposed to a stressful task, and then either read for 30 minutes, or gardened for 30 minutes. People who gardened had lower levels of stress markers in the body and reported more positive mood than the people who read. Other research has shown the beneficial effects of simply being in nature for decreasing stress.
Working in a garden, or simply being in one, really does have profound health effects. Also called horticulture therapy, garden therapy is often used in medical settings, and can help treat a variety of conditions, including mental and behavioral disorders like dementia, depression, and schizophrenia. Being in a garden and working with the plants in horticulture therapy is particularly effective for the elderly; it is associated with reduced pain perception, stress, number of falls, and symptoms of dementia, along with improvements in self-esteem, social interactions, and more.
If you are wondering how to relieve stress, be more active, eat better, and live a healthier lifestyle in general, consider starting your own garden. Who knows, it might become a new passion!
Chelsea Clark is a writer with a passion for science, human biology, and natural health. She holds a bachelor’s degree in molecular and cellular biology with an emphasis in neuroscience from the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, WA. Her research on the relationship between chronic headache pain and daily stress levels has been presented at various regional, national, and international conferences. Chelsea’s interest in natural health has been fueled by her own personal experience with chronic medical issues. Her many profound experiences with natural health practitioners and remedies have motivated Chelsea to contribute to the world of natural health as a researcher and writer for Natural Health Advisory Institute.
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