Gardening is not just for flower lovers, and is moving out of people’s window boxes and into their backyards. In the past few years, food gardening has increasingly become an activity done to facilitate better physical fitness, healthier eating and well-being.
And science backs this up. Gardening helps you:
To fit exercise into your day
Regular gardening of about a half hour a day can cut your risk for stroke and heart attack by nearly 30 percent for men and women aged 60 and older. Those with diabetes have a much higher risk of developing from both of those. But get moving, and get healthy! Anything from raking, to planting and weeding or pruning, to digging, you burn calories as well as manufacture happy endorphins. Those happy endorphins can also ward off depression, improve your sleep, reduce stress, and increase your energy levels.
Get some sun and Vitamin D
Sun exposure and Vitamin D synthesis helps boost your immune system, as well as lower your risk of of heart disease, osteoporosis, and certain cancers. And believe it or not, a lack of Vitamin D, which our bodies make from exposure to sunlight on our skin, can be associated with depression. Feeling the post-holiday blues, or experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)? Get outside for at last 15 minutes a day to give your body a boost of this vital vitamin, and start feeling better.
But be sure to wear sunscreen and/or a wide brimmed hat to protect yourself if you are outside for long amounts of time.
To expose yourself to beneficial bacteria
The bacteria mycobacterium vaccae in the dirt helps boost the immune system – especially in children! The more parasites, bacteria, and viruses in the dirt that you are exposed to, the harder your immune system works and the more hardy it gets.
And it can even alleviate depression. According to National Wildlife Federation, a study done by the Bristol University discovered that soil bacteria “activate[s] a group of neurons that produce the brain chemical serotonin, enhancing feelings of well-being, much in the same manner as antidepressant drugs and exercise.”
So don’t be afraid to get a little dirt on your hands, and even under your fingernails.
To relax, slow down, and enjoy the moment
In this harried modern world where we are assailed by constant noises and distractions, emails and computer and tablet use, 40 or more hour workweeks, and high stress jobs, it’s no wonder we get worn out. Sometimes we don’t have time to cook a proper meal and eat healthy, or get out for even 15 minutes of exercise.
But scheduling in time (even on a weekend) to garden can allow us to unplug. We can walk away from the craziness, and simply be alone with our thoughts – and a few living plants that appreciate our attention in helping them to survive and provide us with its fruit.
Build satisfaction from a flourishing project, and build confidence
Working with our hands and seeing a project come to fruition can be one of the most satisfying things we can do. Not only can working with your hands in a garden help keep your fingers and hands nimble and the blood flowing, has some wonderful psychological benefits as well. Psychology Today Magazine writer Carrie Barron, MD, said in her 2012 article, wrote that “Creating something with your hands … can uncover and channel inner stirrings, wounds smart less and growth ensues. When you make something you feel productive, but the engagement and exploration involved in the doing can move your mind and elevate your mood.
“Creativity is a powerful tool,” Barron added.
Eat nutritious food
Did you know the average pound of produce travels about 1500 miles to get to a store before you buy it?
That doesn’t include the time it waited around after being picked. And because of that lag time, food is usually picked long before it is ripe so that it looks its best by the time it arrives at the store. But it did not have enough time to absorb all of the nutrients it would as a mature plant. And then it waits in a store until you buy it, and then another possible few days to a week before you get it out of the fridge to eat it. The moment a plant is picked from the vine, it begins to lose nutrient potency.
But being able to pick a ripe fruit right off the plant and put it straight on your plate for your next meal is so much better for you. And growing your own garden means that you can avoid the pesticides and herbicides used in conventional farming. Also as we said above, eating a little dirt doesn’t hurt you: So don’t be afraid to just brush off that freshly plucked carrot and take a bite!
Save money on groceries
The biggest complaint Americans have today about eating healthy is that fruits and vegetables can be expensive – especially if you choose to buy organic. But plants have a built-in solution to that problem. Not only can you grow food in your yard for a season, but you can collect seeds when they flower so that you have plenty to plant the next year – and so on, ad nauseum. It’s a win-win situation. According to a study done in 2009 by the nonprofit National Gardening Association, an average family spends about $70 a year to seed their garden, and grow an estimated $600-worth of vegetables.
That statistic speaks for itself!
And let’s not forget the great social benefits of gardening. It’s something that you can do with your husband, kids or grandkids, or even neighbors at a community garden or farmer’s market. And when harvest time comes around, you feel like Santa Claus, because you want to give away some of your crop to anyone you meet because you just can’t store it all.
For a general planting calendar guide on what to grow for each season, click here, or visit the Arizona Extension Office website at http://extension.arizona.edu/sites/extension.arizona.edu/files/pubs/az1005.pdf for something more Arizona specific.
So what are you waiting for? Happy gardening, and be well!