We hear over and over again in the news about the obesity epidemic and that many Americans need to get more exercise and adopt a more healthy diet. Gardening can help!
Gardening can improve physical health by strengthening muscles and improving coordination, balance, endurance, and even boosting immune function. Digging, planting, weeding are excellent forms of low-impact exercise. People who are older, recovering from physical illness, have disabilities, suffer from chronic pain and that find more vigorous exercise a challenge may benefit from garden activities. I used to know many older Master Gardeners; I admired and respected them and believed that just keeping active helped them live longer!
A word of caution, however, many gardeners have problems with their backs, wrists and knees. It is important to learn the proper way to stand, sit, lift and carry. Planting in raised beds may reduce both back strain and knee problems.
One advantage gardening has over other forms of exercise is that it is a goal-oriented outdoor activity. There is a definite purpose, either to grow food or to create beauty. People are more likely to stick with it and do it often. But make sure your goals don’t cause you to “overdo” such that you will be in pain the following day. You should know your limits!
You may still need to find a way to get a better cardio workout: running, biking, hiking, dancing, etc. Maybe you can dance amongst the flowers in your garden! I am also finding that as I get older with painful, creaky arthritic joints, a little yoga in the morning to stretch out helps, too!
Being outside in the fresh air and sunshine gets you some natural Vitamin D, too—but wear a hat and use sunscreen on sunny days to prevent skin damage.
The mental benefits of gardening can sometimes outweigh any physical discomfort. You can be proud of a job well done! Gardening may even help reduce stress, lower blood pressure, improve your mood, combat depression, and lower the risk of developing dementia. Nothing beats communing with nature for spiritual well-being! The Horticulture Therapy Association website has more information on the health benefits of gardening and even discusses how to create a “Therapeutic Garden.”
Planting a garden can also be a means of expressing your creativity. Every spring I plant up containers with cheerful, colorful annuals—they make me smile 🙂 … As you are working, don’t forget to pause and smell the flowers, listen to the birds, and appreciate other tiny creatures within the natural beauty that surrounds you!
You can also grow your own fruits, vegetables and herbs. Your home-grown produce may be the freshest, best-tasting, healthiest food you ever ate. Studies of after-school gardening programs even show that kids who garden are more likely to eat fruits and vegetables– And they’re a lot more adventurous about giving new foods a try.
Gardening can also be a social activity. You can participate in community gardens or share seedling plant starts and produce. Harvest-time is a great time to have a get together with family and friends.
You don’t need a big backyard or a green thumb. If you have little space, you can start enjoying gardening, the favorite American pastime, with a few houseplants or some containers on a balcony or patio.
When I was a young girl, weeding the garden was a hated chore. Now, working in the garden is a pleasant escape from dishes, laundry and other indoor drudgery—I often can’t wait to get outside!