Health Benefits of Gardening

We ran across this article from Eating Well and just had to share highlights of it and add it to this month’s Health Tips due to its relevance to the season. Growing a few things in your garden or in containers on your deck will not only perk up your recipes with tomatoes, peppers, herbs, and more, Eating Well also touts the research-validated health benefits of gardening – from reducing stress to boosting your memory. Some of these benefits apply to flower gardening as well.

1. Lowers Stress
A 2017 review of more than 20 studies found that regular gardening reduces tension as well as anger, fatigue and anxiety. One reason? Gardening gets you outside, a natural mood booster. In one small study, researchers compared outdoor gardening to indoor reading for stress relief. After 30 minutes, both groups reported better moods – but cortisol tests showed that stress levels had dropped much more for the gardeners, and their sunny moods lasted longer.

2. Protects Against Dementia
Researchers at UCLA and the University of Pittsburgh found in a 2016 study of nearly 900 older adults (looking at questionnaires and MRI scans from the 30-year Cardiovascular Health Study), that doing more physical activities like gardening, dancing and riding an exercise bike actually upped brain volume in several areas – including the hippocampus, the part that controls memory. The people whose brain size increased from exercise cut their Alzheimer’s risk in half.

3. Builds Muscle Strength
Gardening works all the major muscle groups: legs, arms, back, core. However, researchers from Kansas State University were surprised to learn that it also increases hand strength. In a small study of older adults, doing simple tasks like filling pots and mixing soil improved their grip – and their self-esteem.

4. Helps You Eat More Vegetables
Once you’ve nurtured something from a seed, you’re more likely to pile it on your plate (roasted beets anyone?). And multiple studies suggest that kids who learn to garden eat more fruits and vegetables.

5. Nourishes the Senses
A flourishing garden does more than feed your body – it feeds your senses. To help astronauts fight sensory deprivation and ease the boredom and isolation of long missions, NASA researchers began gardening experiments. Using LED lights for 10 hours a day, space station crews grew zucchini, zinnias, sunflowers, soybeans and more. The space farmers said they looked forward to checking their plants each day, and they were surprised at how seeing their bright colors helped during weeks of dark orbit.

6. Eases Depression
In a small, three-month study of people with clinical depression, working in a garden improved their symptoms. In particular, the participants were able to focus more and brood less – even months after the program ended.

7. Fights Heart Disease
In a 12-year Swedish study of 4,000 older adults, researchers found that physical activities like gardening helped cut the risk of heart attack or stroke by up to 30 percent. In fact, gardening provided as many health benefits as regular, more intense exercise. The key, researchers say, especially as you age: find something you love that gets you off your butt.

8. Keeps You Trim
For a 150-pound person, one hour of hoeing, weeding and digging zaps 324 calories. Some studies also suggest that compared to non-gardeners, gardeners tend to have lower body mass indexes (BMIs).

9. Improves Quality of Life
Gardening makes you happy. In a survey of older adults by Texas A&M and Texas State universities, gardeners reported more optimism and energy, better health and greater life satisfaction than nongardeners.

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