How Does Your Garden Grow? Unexpected Health Benefits of Gardening
It’s no secret that homegrown vegetables and fruits have superior nutritional value to their supermarket cousins. This is largely due to the fact that so much less time passes between the picking of the produce and the eating of it. There is also a much lower usage of pesticides and other chemicals on locally grown and homegrown produce. Therefore, the amount of chemicals and harmful substances that we ingest is lowered dramatically. These obvious health benefits have led many families to begin growing their own gardens in their backyards or co-ops to improve their diets. But, there are actually many unexpected health benefits of gardening that should get you thinking about getting your hands a little dirty. That labor of love may in fact strengthen you in surprising ways!
Stress Relief and Self-Esteem
Studies show that there is a biological need in us to find ways to relieve our stress. A Dutch study in which a group of individuals who were asked to complete a stressful task showed more signs of stress relief after 30 minutes of gardening than did the group who followed up their stressful activity with quiet reading. Stress sometimes seems like something we cannot escape, and many people may not even realize how much stress in their lives. However, when our bodies are in a state of mental stress they produce a hormone known as cortisol. Studies show that a chronic rise in Cortisol over a period of time can lead to more health problems than our mood. It is linked to heart disease, obesity, immune deficiencies, learning gaps, memory loss and more. So, just 30 minutes of pouring yourself into the earth can ease that rise in cortisol and help with your overall mental and physical health.
Heart Health & Stroke Risk
It is recommended that we get at least 2.5 hours of moderate exercise each week. Did you know that gardening is considered moderate exercise? Regular gardening can reduce the risk of heart attacks and stroke in people over the age of 60 by more than 30%. Trouble with your joints? No problem — try raised bed gardening so that you can comfortable reach each of your plants. Gardening has the added bonus of allowing you short spurts of exposing your skin to the sun. Vitamin D is vital for heart health. Just 30 minutes of having your arms exposed while gardening can reduce your risk of heart disease, as well as certain types of cancer and osteoporosis. If you can’t manage 30 minutes consecutively, try 15 minutes twice a day. Staying indoors and sitting too much can be the culprit of many health risks. So, get outside and get moving!
Hand Strength & Dexterity
As we age (don’t we all just LOVE that phrase), our range of mobility and dexterity in our hands can begin to diminish. This places limitations on the activities we are able to perform comfortably. By keeping our hands in the dirt, we are maintaining the muscle flexibility and tone in our hands and forearms. There are certainly physical therapy exercises that can be done to maintain this, but an activity like gardening is much more pleasurable. As an added bonus, the use of your less dominant hand is a good workout for your hands AND your brain — keeping you sharp as you age. As with any exercise, you can over use these muscles and cause injury without taking care to stretch, switch hands and only do what is reasonably within your abilities. Choosing a raised bed garden can make gardening a little easier on those who are no longer able to sit and squat to take care of plants.
Brain Health & Alzheimer’s Disease
A long term study of occurrences of Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease followed 3,000 adults over 16 years, and it’s findings were quite notable. The study found that daily gardening represented the single most effective activity in reducing the incidence of dementia and Alzheimer’s. That particular study found the risk reduction to be 36%. Other studies have found that reduction to be even higher. Overall, Alzheimer’s is a mysterious disease and not well understood by doctors and patients alike. And while that lack of understanding is sure to exist for a while longer, what is known is that gardening requires the use of multiple bodily functions — strength, endurance, dexterity, learning, problem solving, and sensory awareness. This myriad of systems working together likely help maintain brain function.
It seems counterintuitive to many of us these days, but sometimes being exposed to dirt, germs and allergens actually make our immune systems stronger! First of all, the sun exposure helps you fight off colds and the flu by boosting the Vitamin D in your body. As an added bonus, the garden soil we get under our finger nails while gardening is rich in the good kind of bacteria. This bacteria can help alleviate symptoms of psoriasis, allergies and asthma. The bacteria doesn’t cure these items directly, but these problems are issues associated with an irregular immune system. The bacteria adds to the overall efficiency of our immune systems.
Mental Health & Depression
It’s been proven time and again that getting a little hot and sweaty with physical activity will increase your body’s release of endorphins and help elevate your mood. Gardening can be a labor-intense workout generating the sweat and heart rate elevation needed to boost your mood. Along with the physical aspect, gardening is now being more widely used as “therapy” for those suffering with depression. The combination of the physical activity, fresh air, natural surroundings and the sense of accomplishment that comes from gardening lead to an overall feeling of satisfaction and success. To add to the effectiveness of this particular therapeutic purpose, it is recommended that you cultivate a variety of plants in your garden — fruits, vegetables, flowers and non-flowering plants — providing a multi-sensory experience right in your own back yard!
So, there you have it. Homegrown plants and vegetable provide a little respite for you — mind, body and soul. If you’re interested in starting a garden, you should visit a local nursery or home center to find out what tools you’ll need and what plants grow best in your area. This is a great family project to not only get children active outside (and away from their tablets), but it also helps set a healthy eating example for your children.