Special to the Recorder
Gardening is a popular outdoor pastime and an excellent way to spend time in nature, beautify your environment and grow nutritious fruits, vegetables and herbs. And according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it’s also an effectively way to stay in shape: 30 to 45 minutes of gardening can burn up to 150 calories!
Maintaining a garden is a great way for people of all ages and abilities to stay active, and active individuals are less likely to develop hypertension, Type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, heart disease, depression and other problems, notes the CDC. Your health care professional can counsel you on how to use proper posture and technique to avoid excessive spine and joint strain when gardening in order to help you prevent injuries that may keep you from enjoying this health-positive activity.
Benefit #1: Improved physical health
Gardening involves a variety of physical activities that challenge you to move your body in different ways and improve your strength and stamina. Common gardening tasks include raking, hoeing, digging, squatting, turning compost heaps, using a push mower or rototiller and lifting and hauling garden supplies. And those are just a few of the activities that make gardening a serious workout.
Moreover, the American Council on Exercise finds that gardening is an effective form of resistance training that helps lower your risk for chronic disease. While most people garden for fun, scheduling regular gardening sessions – three times per week for 30 minutes to 1 hour – can yield excellent health benefits. Pulling weeds, raking and other upper body tasks works your arms, chest, back and shoulders, while other activities, such as hauling supplies in a wheelbarrow, work your lower body.
Benefit #2: Enhanced mental & social health
Gardening is also associated with several significant mental and social health benefits. According to a 2004 study published in the journal Social Science and Medicine, gardening – and communal gardening in particular – helps combat isolation in older individuals, helps older adults develop social networks and improves quality of life and emotional well-being in seniors. But young people can reap the mental and social health benefits of gardening, too, teaching children and teens mental skills, such as multitasking, scheduling and planning while cultivating a sense of identity and belonging. Gardening is a way for youths to exercise their creativity as well: A garden is like a blank canvas ready to be painted, and how a child or teen builds his or her garden reflects personal identity and artistic style.
Benefit #3: Decreased stress & anxiety
Many people try gardening as a way to help them relax or manage stress, and research evidence is now confirming what many people have known for decades about gardening’s stressbusting potential. A 2011 study published in the Journal of Health Psychology states that gardening can encourage relief from acute stress and restore positive mood, and is better at doing both these things than indoor reading. Another study, published in 2004, notes that home gardens help reduce feelings of stress and that interacting with nature in a nurturing environment helps boost mental well-being.
Benefit #4: Access to nutritious foods
Tending a garden means having easy access to nutritious foods, and gardeners may eat more fruits and vegetables than non-gardeners. In addition, first graders who learn about nutrition in the classroom while growing vegetables outdoors in their own gardens have a greater willingness to taste those garden-grown vegetables, according to a study published in California Agriculture. Indeed, gardening is a way to encourage healthier food consumption patterns in people of all ages.
Gardening is a healthful activity that yields many benefits, but it is important to remember to start off slowly to avoid muscle strains and soreness. Low-back pain is one of the most common complaints among gardeners, so if you are prone to back pain, you may want to seek advice from your health care professional about ways to prevent back pain while gardening.
Dr. Erika Hamer, DC, DIBCN, DIBE is a chiropractic neurologist and owner of Ponte Vedra Wellness Center, with offices in Ponte Vedra Beach and Nocatee Town Center. Dr. Hamer also runs Ponte Vedra Training Company, specializing in doctor supervised training programs customized according to individual goals and physical limitations.