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Ahhh, the satisfaction you feel at preparing a meal with ingredients you grew yourself in your garden!
Those tomatoes taste sweeter than any you ever bought at the store; the lettuce is tender and delicate; the squash … well, the squash keeps on coming and your only challenge is finding new recipes or neighbors to gift with your bounty!
It’s a well-known fact that garden to table is fresher and more nutritious than any commercially available product, but did you know that there are some hidden health benefits of gardening?
Whether you have a large kitchen garden, a patio full of potted dwarf varieties, or share in a community garden, the act of gardening rewards you with more than homegrown produce.
Here are 7 of health benefits of gardening.
1. Stress relief
Spending time outdoors with the sights and sounds of nature is calming to most people. Studies have shown decreased levels of Cortisol in people who garden regularly.
Increase the stress reducing benefits of gardening by leaving your electronics indoors, engaging with the experience of gardening, finding the creativity in choosing the arrangement of flowers you want to grow and the types of vegetables you will plant, create an oasis for birds and butterflies who visit your garden, and – most of all – take the time to sit back, look around and enjoy what you have created.
2. A Workout
ChooseMyPlate.gov puts gardening in the category of moderate physical activities, burning approximately 330 calories an hour. That’s in the same range as hiking, dancing, bicycling, walking and weight training. Gardening gets your whole body moving in a way that feels more natural and fun than a gym workout. By tuning out the world and focusing on gardening tasks, your mind and body relax and you get a great workout through stretching, pushing, pulling and lifting. Planting and taking care of a garden is a daily task and creates a regular exercise that contributes to better heart health and decreases the risks of heart attacks and strokes.
3. Hand strength and dexterity
Gardening offers the opportunity to use your hands in many different kinds of movements. This is a great way to build hand strength and dexterity. Just be careful. As with any repetitive task, gardening also has its share of stress injuries like tendonitis. Do some stretching before gardening and switch off hands to prevent one from being overworked.
4. Brain Health and Decreased Alzheimer’s
In a UCLA and University of Pittsburg study (https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/03/160311084108.htm ), researchers found that aerobic physical activity improved brain structure and reduced the risk of getting Alzheimer’s.
Gardening could be said to be an ideal exercise for older people since it provides a workout within the physical capabilities of the gardener. Since it is a home-based activity, it’s easier to get in regular exercise and mental activity throughout the day. Gardening builds strength and dexterity and requires sensory awareness, which in turn stimulates memory.
5. Stronger immune system and better mood
The easiest way to maintain healthy vitamin D levels is to spend at least 10 minutes in the sun with skin exposure (wearing shorts and a tank top). Gardening gives you more than enough time to have the exposure you need, but be sure to sunblock after a few minutes.
Researchers believe that friendly soil bacteria play a part in building a stronger immune system. Chemicals called cytokines can activate nerves that relay signals from the body to the brain to release serotonin. Lack of serotonin is known to be linked to depression.
Studies have also shown that early childhood exposure to dirt and bacteria help prevent allergies and asthma later in life. Taking this a step further, newer findings suggest that bacteria exposure boosts the immune system. Gardening is a perfect way to get that exposure!
6. Mental Health
In a Psychology Today article, author Sarah Rayner says that gardening has a positive effect on mental health because it is a healing activity.
Gardening gives you a sense of responsibility, is nurturing, keeps you connected to living things, helps you relax and separate from daily stress and people, releases serotonin and dopamine through exercise, and reminds you to live in the present.
This combination of physical activity, natural surroundings and satisfaction in what you have created creates a therapeutic effect.
You can enhance the effect by choosing to incorporate the senses in your gardening choices. Plant a few scented plants among the vegetables so that you enhance your experience every time you walk by the lavender or brush your hand across the blooms. Place a garden bench or chair in a shaded spot so you can relax after all your hard work and enjoy seeing what you’ve accomplished.
7. A Better Night’s Sleep
Maybe it’s a combination of the physical exercise of gardening and the stress relief and spending time in the outdoors, but regular gardening can significantly improve your sleep quality.
Remember the times when you’ve spent all day at a campsite, at the beach, or even at an all-day sports event? Breathing in fresh air and the scents of the locale have you sleeping deeply and restfully at the end of the day.
Gardening gives you that sustained time outdoors, absorbing the sun, and the smells and feel of dirt and tender plants in your hands. It’s not surprising that it leads to to a well-deserved night’s sleep.
Gardeners are a passionate bunch. Whether introverts who prefer to live in their private paradise or outgoing people who love to meet others of their kinds at garden shows and community gardens, gardeners have learned a long time ago that gardening has surprising health benefits. Maybe it’s time you enjoyed them as well!