Lyn Chimera is a Master Gardener, consultant and lecturer.
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By: Lyn Chimera
There are so many reasons that gardening is good for you. Recently I was invited to give a presentation on the topic, and the research I did made me realize just how very many ways there are. Not only do you get beautiful flowers and/or yummy vegetables it’s great for your physical and mental wellbeing.
For me, gardening helps keep me centered. It’s very relaxing while at the same time it can be hard work which helps work out stress and frustrations. While gardening you focus on what you’re doing and forget about what’s bothering you. Even weeding can almost be meditative and it sure is satisfying once you’re finished. Another benefit is that inhaling a naturally occurring bacteria in the soil M.vaccae, can release serotonin which reduces anxiety.
Besides relieving stress, gardening is good for you in other ways. It helps build strength and flexibility. Hand strength improves from using pruners, a trowel, shovels, gripping any tools, wheelbarrow handles etc.. It’s hard to do any gardening without using your hands. Your back gets lots of exercise from bending and lifting for all sorts of chores which really helps strengthen those muscles. When my back gets a little tired from all that bending, I stand up and flex my spine back like a mini backbend then do a yoga move called scrape the barrel where you rotate your hips as if you were scraping the inside of a barrel. Both these stretches help relieve back strain and help avoid a sore back. Gardening also makes you stronger.
Hauling watering cans, hoses, digging, and all garden chores improve strength. Gardening is an excellent low impact exercise. Studies have shown that people stick with gardening much more than they stick to going to a gym and you don’t have a monthly fee! General gardening can burn 330 calories per hour. It would be more for more strenuous garden work like mowing (not a riding mower), digging, raking etc..
While outside gardening you are exposed to vitamin D through sunshine. Vitamin D helps increase
calcium and makes bone stronger. It also boosts your immune system. However, don’t forget to use
sunscreen. Another benefit of gardening is it gets you outside and away from electronics and screens. This relieves eye strain and gives your brain a rest. Try trading your blackberry for blackberry bushes!
Growing fruits and vegetables dramatically improves your diet. Fresh produce is much more nutritious and healthier for you. You can control and hopefully eliminate the pesticide and herbicide use. Besides it tastes much better. People who grow vegetables tend to include more vegetables in their diet which is another benefit to your health. Children involved with growing food are much more willing to try things and will eat vegetables they might not ordinarily.
If you happen to have back and or knee problems, you can still enjoy gardening. Raised beds, some can be as tall as tables, allow you to garden with little to no bending. Planters and even window boxes can be used to grow food or flowers. Knee pads or movable foam pads are very helpful for sore knees. I’ve used both and preferred knee pads that wrap around your knees. That way you don’t have to move the foam pad from place to place. Bench seats are also available. Some are 2-sided, one side for a kneeling pad and when it's turned over it becomes a raised seat. The legs form a bar for helping you get up.
Therapeutic gardens have been used for centuries. The original Richardson Complex on Elmwood Ave in Buffalo was an asylum for people with mental problems. Working outside in vegetable and flower gardens was part of everyone’s therapy. Many prisons have gardens where prisoners can learn skills that could be turned into employment once released. These gardens also help calm prisoners and generally improve their behavior. My mother was in a nursing home where they had a courtyard garden which gave her hours of pleasure. She didn’t remember a lot but once in the garden she knew what to do. It was amazing to watch.
Don’t worry if you have no access to a garden, just being outside in nature can improve your mood,
health, and wellbeing. So let nature help you relax and enjoy nature’s beauty.