Meteorological summer may be drawing to a close, but many areas of the U.S. will still be enjoying the benefits of summer days from their gardens for some time yet to come: numerous fruits, vegetables, and flowers produce well into the fall. This happy fact means gardeners can also continue to enjoy the numerous health benefits of gardening.
Let’s take a look at the wonderful health perks of gardening and how gardening helps us with Medcor’s Four Guiding Health Principles: Move Your Body, Eat Real Food, Sleep, and Mind Your Happiness.
Move Your Body
Gardening gets you moving! The CDC lists many benefits associated with physical activity including achieving and maintaining a healthy weight as well as reducing the risk of heart attack and stroke. Studies have been finding that the physical activity associated with gardening brings about these benefits for people of all ages.
Gardening has been found to satisfy physical activity recommendations for older adults. One study out of Denver suggests that gardening, especially community gardening, may provide a counterbalance to age-related weight gain. Other research suggests that community gardening positively impacts body mass index (BMI) reduction. A study in New Zealand focused on adolescents who participated in school gardens and found they had healthier BMI and weight. The CDC categorizes light gardening and yard work as “moderate physical activity,” which burns about 330 calories an hour.
As for heart health, research published by the British Journal of Sports Medicine showed that incorporating just 10-59 minutes of weekly moderate physical activity reduced the risk of cardiovascular disease-related death. Similarly, light physical activity, including gardening, has been found to decrease the risk of a heart attack in women over age 63.
Eat Real Food
Eating real food means eating nutrient-rich, minimally-processed food. What better way to get real food than to grow it in your own garden? An important aspect of growing your own fruits and vegetables is that DIY gardening gives you control: control over what varieties you grow and when you harvest them, which means you grow what you like, and eat it when it is at its freshest. And as this article points out, it also gives you control over what kinds of pesticides and fertilizers you use.
The CDC says that 90% of adults don’t eat the recommended 1.5 to 2 cups of fruit and 2 to 3 cups of vegetables each day. Growing your own fruits and veggies helps encourage you and your family to eat more of them. For example, some research demonstrates that gardening increases the number of vegetables that children eat, which may lead to healthy veggie-eating habits when they’re older, as this study suggests.
If you are solely a flower gardener, or you don’t have space for your own vegetable garden and don’t have access to a community garden, or if you want a greater variety of crops than you can grow yourself, check out the USDA’s national directory of farmers markets to help you find locally-grown produce. Local Harvest’s directory may also help you with that search and may help you find local grocery co-ops and farm stands as well. If nothing else works, consider enquiring at your supermarket which of their seasonal produce is locally-grown.
This is not to suggest that you should take a nap in your carrot patch. However, the activities you do during the day—like weeding your carrot patch—can affect how well you sleep at night. Consider this article from the University of Oxford: In addition to tiring you out a bit with physical activity, gardening gets you outside and exposed to natural daylight, which in turn helps your body set its internal sleep clock, the circadian rhythm, crucial for a good night’s rest.
Mind Your Happiness
Minding your happiness is all about integrating the things that bring joy to your life and finding your balance in a world that can be too stressful. There’s a lot to be said about how having a hobby can make you happier. When it comes to relieving stress and finding a happy hobby, gardening has a lot going for it.
The American Institute of Stress points out that gardening can help reduce cortisol levels, which is a hormone attributed to symptoms (like sweaty palms) and conditions (like depression) that we produce when we’re stressed. Anxiety.org examines clinical research that indicates gardening reduces symptoms of anxiety and depression through positive experiences of nature and a person’s mindfulness of the beauty in the environment around them. Plus, the satisfaction of seeing your garden grow is another reason to be happy.
Late Gardeners and Non-Gardeners
If you missed out on gardening this year: no worries. There are plenty of resources out there to help you plan for the next planting season. When gardening, be sure to always take proper precautions for health and safety while enjoying your hobby.
And if gardening is not for you—no worries about that, either. But be sure to find other ways that help you get out and move your body, eat real food, sleep well, and mind your happiness.