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These days everyone is looking for the next best thing to help keep them in shape both mentally and physically. It seems like every week there’s a new technique or fad piece of workout equipment that claims extravagant results with minimal input. But just how effective are they and is newer necessarily better? How can we be sure that these new technologies and procedures will garner the desired results? The truth is, we really can’t. Solid performance data and results often don’t come around until years after the fact. While lifting weights and other traditional, or new age, exercise programs aren’t for everyone there are many benefits, both physical and psychological, associated with getting proper exercise. If you think you’ve tried everything and still haven’t found what works for you, let me ask you something. Have you tried gardening?
Yes, gardening! It’s not just putting on gloves, a straw sun hat, grabbing a small trowel and potting those chrysanthemums you just bought. No, it turns out, gardening can be quite beneficial to both physical and psychological health. From the more obvious health benefits that are associated with eating more fruits and veggies to the potential ability of horticultural therapy to help dementia patients, gardening covers quite the spectrum of health benefits.
First, let’s cover the physical benefits of gardening. Generally speaking gardening occurs outdoors, excepting greenhouse gardening, but in both cases the physical aspects are very similar. While outdoors, or in your greenhouse, you are exposing yourself to sunlight. Prolonged exposure without proper protections can be dangerous, but measured amounts of sunlight exposure promotes vitamin D production in the body. Vitamin D is a necessary nutrient that can be difficult to source from our diets alone.
Then there’s the moving of dirt, which let’s face it, is not exactly a fun task. (A cubic foot of soil can weigh up to 76 pounds according to some estimates). Some gardens require quite a bit of raking of leaves or wood chips in order to optimize the space. Most gardens will require some amount of weeding, which is arguably the most tedious task imaginable. There’s a lot of crouching down and bending over, followed by gripping and pulling, it’s entirely possible weeding is the most physically demanding part of gardening. As a result, gardening works every major muscle group in our bodies! Have you ever wondered why a day of yardwork leaves you feeling sore and exhausted the next day? Gardening is hard work!
All this hard work making you tired? Good! That means it is working. Not sure if any of you knew this already but we, as humans, need to sleep. While we’re still not entirely sure why, we for sure need to sleep. Some sleep less than others, but in the end, we all need to rest our heads and close our eyes at some point throughout the day or night. All that weeding and moving of soil and rocks can really tire you out. In fact, gardening has been identified as a form of exercise by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Proper exercise can promote a healthy sleep schedule which, in and of itself, can provide a myriad of essential benefits that allow us to function as human beings.
Not only can gardening provide a workout, but it’s also an avenue to healthier eating! Fruits and vegetables are very much things you can grow on your own (depending on your “Hardiness zone”) which means you can access healthy food without having to leave your home. It’s also entirely up to you what you grow, so if you don’t like carrots you don’t have to grow them. If you don’t like Brussel sprouts (I’ve got a recipe that might change your mind) you don’t need to plant any! Do you love broccoli? Fill your garden with it! Though you might want to have a contingency plan for harvest time when you have pounds on pounds of crowns in your hypothetical basket. Point being, you can grow whatever you want in your own garden, whether you plan on eating it or not.
Even if you choose to plant a non-edible garden, you still have the chance to reap some of the benefits that gardening can provide. In the simplest of ways, it can help reduce symptoms of anxiety and stress. Gardening is an activity that requires prior planning, generally speaking, before one hits the soil. It could be a plan of what you want to plant or possibly how you wish to arrange your plants. This allows you to focus on and complete a task at hand. Not only does digging around in your garden give you an accomplishable goal, it can help with serotonin release from your brain. Science has proven that getting outside and playing around in the dirt can expose you to beneficial bacteria, helping with things like asthma and allergies. In addition studies have shown that there is a bacteria in the soil, M. vaccae, when inhaled via digging in the dirt or just being outside can stimulate the release of serotonin from the brain. Maybe that’s why children always seem so overjoyed when they’re absolutely covered in dirt.
Perhaps you’ve never tried to actually garden and you’re more of a ‘buys plants because they look nice’ kind of person. My girlfriend, loves plants. Can she keep them alive? Well, let’s just say she hasn’t yet killed the succulents I got her for her office. But generally speaking, she’d rather buy those fake plastic plants because she, “can’t kill those”. Now, I like to think I have a green thumb but my sense of decoration and color coordination leaves something to be desired in her mind. But, all this just means that we get to do this together. While many may think of gardening as a solo activity, it doesn’t have to be! We love taking trips to local nurseries and plant stores, she gets to find the best looking plant for the space were trying to fill as well as the best pot for said plant, while I get to get my hands dirty and make sure the plant is safe, sound and ready to thrive in its new home. In this, we both benefit. She gets to exercise the creative portion of her brain and feels a sense of accomplishment when the plants inevitably look beautiful right where she said they would. I get the satisfaction of doing something with my hands and observing the long term growth and success of a plant, so long as the cats don’t eat them. We both get the benefit of having more plants around the house which not only makes the place look nicer, it also helps with our indoor air quality. But gardening isn’t just beneficial for couples. Try planting something with one of your children, grandchildren, nieces or nephews! Not only will it provide an opportunity to bond, but watching a seed grow to maturity can be an incredibly rewarding experience. When anyone, especially children, can succeed at something like growing a plant a wave of accomplishment will rush over them. Gardening can be an excellent way to boost self-esteem by providing a tangible goal that requires minimal input to achieve.
Beyond the more immediate physical health benefits that gardening provides, there are a few psychological benefits that may surprise you. In various countries around the world research is underway to study the impacts gardening can have on dementia patients, the results might surprise you. A Korean study showed that 20-minute gardening activities that dementia patients took part in, increased some amount of brain nerve growth closely associated with memory in both male and female patients. The subjects of this study ranged in age from about 70-82, all of whom were suffering from some form of dementia. Their task, to undertake low-to-moderate intensity activities and in the end, grow a vegetable garden. Perhaps the most interesting find, there was no difference between brain nervous growth factors in male or female participants. It is accepted that both the volume and weight of the human brain begins to decrease past 40 years of age at a rate of about 5% per decade. This decrease becomes more rapid past the age of 70. But, this study has proven that gardening can help stave off the loss of memory and can potentially help keep the brain functioning at a high level well into our later years.
I don’t know about you, but to me, gardening seems like almost the perfect activity. Not only can you get outside and be active but you can grow your own food and take care of your mental health, all at the same time. Fresh fruits and vegetables can have great impacts on your overall health and they come with the satisfaction that you yourself grew them! If you can grow your own food, what can’t you do? Gardening also helps maintain essential brain functions as you age which can increase your quality of life as you get older. Did I mention cultivating gardening spaces is one of the oldest activities our ancestors engaged in? Gardening lets you keep our collective history alive all while doing your part to help future generations, granted you pass down what you’ve learned. Still don’t think gardening is for you? Give it a try anyway! Just being around plants can actually make you happy. Still have questions? Give us a call, send us an email or contact us on one of our social media platforms! We here at Charley’s have a very friendly and knowledgeable staff that’s always happy to help! Here’s wishing you a happy and healthy life, filled with the magic activity that is gardening.