Good health is much more than the absence of disease. And that summation comes from no less an authority than the World Health Organisation. It says good health is a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing. No argument there.
In National Gardening Week, as spring bursts forth all over Australia – though with more impact in southern states – it seems natural to gravitate outdoors, to the garden, courtyard, balcony or park.
But if you have an outdoor area at home – even enough room for a few pots – or a community garden within an easy walk, consider the health benefits of gardening. I speak from experience, but the benefits are also beautifully summed up by unchealthcare.org.
1. Home-grown self-esteem
Preparing soil or pots, planting seeds or seedlings, watering and nurturing then harvesting brings life back to the basics and shows what you can do. And if things don’t work out the first time, you will have learnt enough to do better the second time around. Gardening is very forgiving.
2. From and for the heart
You’re most likely outdoors – with hat, sunscreen, protective clothing and gloves on – and strengthening your heart. According to WebMD: “Activities such as gardening, do-it-yourself projects and housework may be as good as formal exercise when it comes to reducing the risk for heart attack and stroke.”
3. Busting stress
A Dutch study asked two groups of people to complete a stressful task and concluded that gardening for 30 minutes after the task resulted in lower cortisol levels. Cortisol is the hormone associated with stress. So if you’ve had a rough day or a sleepless night, get into the garden.
4. Getting down and dirty
There’s a scientific reason why gardening makes you happy. Studies suggest that inhaling M. vaccae, a healthy bacterium that lives in soil, can increase levels of serotonin and reduce anxiety. According to Discover Magazine, “you get a dose [of M. vaccae] just by taking a walk in the wild or rooting around in the garden” and this “could help elicit a jolly state of mind.”
5. You’ll sleep better
Research at the University of Pennsylvania suggests that the light activity associated with gardening can help you sleep better at night.
6. Strength to strength
Preparing soil or pots, digging, planting and pulling weeds will increase your hand strength and help keep your body in shape. Just don’t overdo it.
7. Flavour and finances
If all the reasons above haven’t converted you, then consider what you might save by growing your own herbs and vegetables. For instance, instead of buying a bunch of coriander, you can pick a plant at a time. And nothing beats a tomato that has been allowed to ripen on the bush. And when everything ripens at the same time, share the produce with neighbours and friends or get out the recipe books to find out how to pickle, freeze and preserve.
8. Family fun
Don’t keep your passion to yourself – pass on your knowledge to children and grandchildren. Early exposure to dirt has been linked to all kinds of long-term health benefits, such as reducing allergies and autoimmune diseases. And that’s not to ignore the bonding that can occur over a garden bed.
9. Community minded
If you live in a unit without space for pots, check with your local council or library to see if there is a community garden nearby. That way, you can combine all the health benefits of gardening with a lovely social occasion.
Are you a gardener? Do you believe you’re healthier as a result? Have you tried to ensure the kids or grandkids are also gardeners?
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