Several years ago, as a newly minted Alabama Master Gardener, I volunteered to mentor a breast cancer survivor as part of the second phase of a study called Harvest for Health. The researchers were wondering if working in a garden would help participants get more exercise, become stronger and more mobile, and eat more veggies. The study turned out to be so successful that the researchers are now looking for ways to expand it to other parts of the country. (My own partner-survivor experienced all of those benefits — and is still gardening on her own!) All of this got me thinking about the healthy side of gardening. After all, you don't have to be a breast cancer survivor to reap a big helping of body-friendly benefits from spending some time with your plants. Here are seven healthy things that growing your own food can help you do:
Burn calories. A 150-lb person burns an average of about 272 calories per hour working in the garden. (I say "about" because you'll burn more if you do a good bit of hoeing and digging, less if you're just out there doing a bit of harvesting.) The Centers for Disease Control considers general gardening to be "moderate intensity physical activity," something they suggest folks get at least 2.5 hours of every week.
Beat stress. Dutch researchers randomly assigned a number of stressed-out people to either garden outside or read inside for 30 minutes. Both activities lowered cortisol levels (cortisol is a hormone released by your body when you feel threatened), but the gardeners saw a bigger decrease. This really doesn't surprise me: Though I'm an avid reader, nothing calms me down more than a little mindless weeding.
Feel happier. Another study found that spending time outside can lift your mood, improve concentration, and make you happier. And where are most gardens located? Outside, of course!
Build strength. Wielding a trowel, hoe, or shovel for any length of time will give your muscles a workout — and when muscles work, they get stronger!
Get your daily D. Gardening outside on a sunny day helps you get your much-needed dose of vitamin D, which is key to healthy bones, skin, and brain.
Eat healthier. Both the Harvest for Health study and numerous school garden programs have shown that folks who grow their own veggies tend to eat more veggies, which brings all sorts of benefits. (Think lower cholesterol, decreased risk of cancer, and better digestion, among other things.) Not to mention that when you grow your own, you know it's free of chemicals and preservatives.
Enjoy your golden years. Still other research out there shows that gardening can help lower the risk of risk of heart attack, stroke, and dementia in older people. Granted, I'm not an "older person", but hey, there's nothing wrong with getting an early start!
Article written by Su Reid-St. John