By Kathy Torres
We live in a world in which good physical and mental health is emphasized and encouraged constantly, through what we watch, read, and hear. It seems a basic intention for us to try to be healthy and happy, even though the goal is at times difficult to reach. Eating the right foods, getting adequate sleep, and exercising are at the top of the list to help us get there, however, as humans, we have needs outside of the physical that directly affect our happiness, for example, the desire for accomplishment, friendship, love, excitement, challenge, affirmation, and quiet. It’s a complicated formula, different for each of us, however, there are some common threads. I’m guessing that if you’re reading this blog, you have an interest in gardening, but, did you know that gardening is beneficial to your health? Here are some positive effects, for both physical and mental well-being.
Gardening is great for 3 types of exercise – aerobic, strength building, and flexibility. Digging, squatting, reaching, pushing, and lifting burns calories providing a workout that is good for the heart. Decrease your anxiety after a bad day, by getting out in the yard and pulling a few weeds to release your frustration and anger. That will give your blood pressure a break! For older folks, gardening keeps you moving, so important for maintaining mobility. Also, working hard will often help to get a good night’s sleep.
All of the activities mentioned above also work the other muscles and joints, contributing to overall strength and flexibility. For some very scientific data on the effects of gardening on your physical health, check out this study published by the American Society for Horticultural Science (Click HERE). The study concludes gardening tasks performed by adults are moderate to high-intensity physical activities.
Vitamin D – Too much sun is not good for the skin, we know that, but we need sunlight to give our bodies enough Vitamin D. The body makes vitamin D when direct sunlight converts a chemical in skin into an active form of the vitamin (calciferol). A healthy dose of vitamin D increases the body’s ability to absorb calcium, which benefits bones and the immune system. Studies suggest that people who get enough vitamin D and calcium can slow bone mineral loss, help prevent osteoporosis and reduce bone fractures.
Growing Your Own Food – The most obvious health benefit of gardening is growing your own food. You will have access to the freshest fruits and vegetables, fertilizers and pesticides can be controlled or eliminated, and you’ll save the money you may have spent on expensive organic foods in the grocery store. Last, vegetables allowed to ripen in the garden have more nutrients than some you buy at the store that may have been picked early.
Connecting with Nature – If you feel good when you walk through a park, botanical garden, or your own landscape, taking in the fresh air, birds singing, and the colors of spring, fall, or any season, you are connecting to nature. The enjoyment of watching a hummingbird at a feeder, digging in the soil, planting seeds and watching them grow, or watering a garden, is connecting to nature. Finding this escape from the hectic pace of life can relieve anxiety, improve mood, and bring about a calming force by helping you to let go, take a deep breath, and just relax. Connecting with nature is therapy for the heart, mind, and soul.
Gardening Makes us Happy – Shopping for plants always makes me happy – I would much rather survey racks of annuals and perennials rather than clothes or shoes. Planting flowers or shrubs and trees to create a garden room or improve the curb appeal of your home offers an opportunity to use those creative instincts, and a little hard work can be very satisfying. The planning, purchasing, and planting of a new garden bed or simply adding to what you’ve got, gives pleasure and a sense of accomplishment and pride. And, honestly, getting a little dirt under the fingernails feels pretty good! Gardening is good therapy for depression. Being outside in the fresh air can be a good distraction while digging in the dirt and planting something beautiful provides a feeling of hope and encouragement.
Family Activity – Gardening is a wonderful family activity, providing kids and adults an opportunity to get outside (away from TVs, phones, computers, video games, etc.), to learn about plants and what is needed to care for them. A vegetable garden is a way to see exactly where food comes from and can hold interest, by checking each day on the progress and then, finally, harvesting and eating! By working together, a family vegetable garden becomes a place to gather, work, and discover.
Builds Self-Esteem and Encourages Friendship – Many people will say, “Oh, I just don’t have a green thumb.” A few failures can certainly diminish confidence, but often it’s just a matter of learning the ropes on proper planting, fertilizing, light requirements and watering. Once educated, success is much more likely and can provide confidence and self-esteem. Talking to others who have the “gardening bug” in common offers an avenue to friendship and sharing.
Dementia Benefits – National Institute of Health (NIH), the National Library of Medicine cites research conducted on the benefits of gardening for people with dementia. “The usefulness of activating the senses, particularly those of touch and smell; the significance of being occupied in meaningful, productive work; the importance of cultivating a sense of curiosity, wonder, and learning; the positive gains derived from socialization in a group context; the peace and hope derived from being ‘in the moment’; and the positive mental and physical well-being derived from participating in the outdoor garden. Our findings support the integration of therapeutic gardening as a valuable practice for people with dementia.” To access this article and additional resources, click HERE.
The Dirt on Dirt – Believe it or not, there is evidence that certain microbes found in soil can contribute to a decrease in stress and even asthma. Those of us who enjoy digging in the dirt are not surprised. See the links below if you’d like to read more. Covid certainly brought about an enhanced effort to keep our hands clean, but maybe we need to adjust a bit, unless we are ill.
Fat in soil bacteria may protect against stress (medicalnewstoday.com)
Hygiene Hypothesis: Could More Dirt and Germs Boost Your Health? | US News
Other than just a hobby to enjoy, gardening IS actually good for us. The benefits are many and can go a long way to improve physical and mental health. I love this quote from Calvin Coolidge, the 30th President of the United States. “All growth depends on the activity. There is no development physically or intellectually without effort, and effort means work.” Staying healthy and happy takes work, so let’s get busy! With spring right around the corner, it’s time to make a plan for planting flowers, creating a new plant bed, or starting a family vegetable garden. Get the kids involved in researching and planning. Staff at Wingard’s Market are available and ready to assist you in selecting plants, soil, and everything else you need for a spring project. Go ahead and get your hands dirty…. you will reap many rewards!
There’s always something blooming at Wingards!