There’s something to be said for “playing in the dirt.” Gardening – the adult version of dirt playing – can be incredibly gratifying. Seeing that first bit of growth start to pop out of the ground after all your prepping, planting and pampering can be quite satisfying. However, did you realize that besides making you feel good about your agriculture aptitude, there are significant health benefits of gardening? It’s true. Gardening can provide a good full-body, low-impact workout, ease stress and even improve eating habits. And, recent research has even shown that bacteria in dirt can make us smarter!
It may be time to dust off that shovel.
While it’s true that gardening doesn’t provide the same calorie burn as say a circuit class or lifting weights (unless of course you’re hauling very heavy yard equipment long distances), it does require muscle strength. And depending on the type of equipment you are using, dragging the tools around the yard can torch quite a few calories. And then there’s the digging, which uses your back muscles, core, arms and legs. Bending up and down to plant the seeds and to weed require strength and stretching and are all excellent forms of low-impact exercise. Plus, that jumping up and down when you win “garden of the month” will be a nice little cardio burst.
The gardening/mental health relationship has had a fair amount of study and the research is pretty conclusive: gardening can greatly improve one’s mental health. In one study, participants of a 12-week, gardening-based program showed “decreases in the severity of their depression, with the biggest mood boosting effects occurring in those who were most engaged in their gardening activities." Maybe it was the sunshine or the peacefulness they felt while working in the garden or the sense of accomplishment of creating something; whatever it was, gardening, more than anything else, vastly improved their mental well-being.
According to the Harvard naturalist and Pulitzer Prize winner Edward O. Wilson, we have a biologically-based need to see nature and be a part of the natural world: we are designed to prefer to look at flowers and grass rather than concrete or steel. Experts believe that it is this connection to nature that allows us to be restored by it through lower blood pressure and improved immune function, among other things. The nice part is, you don't have to have acres of land to reap the benefits. A small plot in your yard or even a few pots to tend to inside your apartment can do the trick.
Think about what is typically grown in a garden: vegetables. You can’t get much healthier than vegetables. Oh wait, maybe you can…homegrown vegetables. Without the concerns of transportation or the need for a long shelf life vegetables grown in your own back yard are typically pesticide free. Or at least, only minimally impacted by potentially harmful chemicals. And with vegetables so fresh and delicious, there will be no need to add salt, butter or other less-than healthy flavor enhancers. Another added bonus: with easy access to so many different vegetables, you might find yourself willing to experiment and try some new and different recipes.
Ok so improving creativity isn't technically a health benefit, but it is important to your overall being. Being able to express yourself creatively, whether it be through art, music, words or nature helps us to grow and be healthy human beings in so many ways. And for many people expressing themselves through plants is the only way they can feel artistic.
But what happens if you don't have a green thumb or even how to get started?There are tons of great books out there on gardening to help get you started or to take your gardening to the next level. Dr. Weil helps to explain some of the basics:
But remember that you don't have to plant an orchard and it doesn't have to be perfect, just the act of gardening will do wonders for your overall health!
Author: Sue Ridgeway