Surprising Benefits of Gardening

We all know the obvious tremendous health benefits of having a garden, as eating organic fruits and vegetables are key to optimal health. However, it might surprise you that gardening also comes with some additional benefits you may not have thought about.
Community and Mental Health
Being a part of community has proven to make people feel connected through common beliefs and values. We’re instinctively drawn to connect with other living, growing things; we want to feel part of the web of life. Having this bond with your garden extends to your gardening neighbor. I’ve always believed the short distance between two people is a smile.
The growing field of “horticultural therapy” is giving proven results for patients with depression and other mental illnesses. The benefits appear to spring from a combination of physical activity, awareness of natural surroundings, cognitive stimulation and the satisfaction of the work.
Many times depression is rooted in the feeling of being disconnected from nature, and thus disconnected from yourself. Researchers have found that digging in the soil may affect your mental health via the microorganisms in the soil—again confirming the link between your personal health and the health of your soil!
You get more than just a pretty view when you surround yourself with growing plants. That sensory experience stirs up mysterious regenerative processes deep in our bodies and minds. There have been studies of patients recovering from surgeries that benefit from being around plants. Groups that had trees and foliage out their window recovered faster with fewer complications than groups that had views of other buildings or walls.
There’s a sense of calm and quietness at the garden. This allows you to relax and slow down. To build the therapeutic properties of your own garden, aim for a combination of food-producing, scented, and flowering plants to nourish all the senses. Trying adding a comfortable seat so you can sit down and continue to soak in the relaxing benefits. We get so busy in our day to day life, we often forget to enjoy the simple moments.
Hand Therapy
You might not think about it, but gardening can also help your hands. The older we get we start to lose strength and dexterity in our hands. Gardening keeps your hands moving and agile. Gripping tools and digging in the dirt are often forgotten exercises to keep our hands limber and strong. There has been research shown that stroke patients who have gardened post stroke have improved rehabilitation. Remember not to push it to avoid conditions like carpal tunnel or tendonitis. Take breaks to avoid stress related injuries from heavily repeated actions. Another thing is to switch tasks to your non dominant hand. This increases dexterity and helps stimulate your brain, as it must think about the new action.
Healthy Brain Function
Gardening involves critical functions. When you are gardening you are using endurance, strength, dexterity, problem solving, planning, sensory awareness, social interactions and learning and these are key elements in brain exercises that keep our minds healthy and stimulated. One long term study published by the Medical Journal of Australia* followed nearly 3000 adults over 16 years tracking incidents of dementia. Of the activities it observed in it’s study they found that daily gardening reduced incident of dementia by 36%.
If you skipped the gym and went to the garden instead, don’t think you missed out on getting your exercise for the day. You may not realize that gardening has exercise benefits, however there are many reasons to consider gardening good for your health. The obvious walking around is good for your legs and your cardiovascular system. Increasing your heart rate for beneficial heart health, and what you may not realize is that we are also bending, lifting and carrying things, thus keeping your heart pumping. Pruning and trimming are great arm and upper body conditioning. You may not be lifting dumb bells at the gym, but carrying your 20 pound pumpkin to the car is just the same. So next time you think gardening is passive, you are burning calories and increasing your strength.
It’s very important to remember to not injure yourself, so here are some tips to stay injury free. Keep your back and knees safe by using a padded kneeler or low bench when digging and weeding. Try getting up and stretching every five minutes to avoid cramping. Don’t twist your body when shoveling dirt aside. Instead, get up and move from spot to spot as you garden. Always keep the shovel close to your body, your knees slightly bent, and scoop in a forward motion. And remember lift with your legs, not with your back.
So the next time you head to the garden it’s not just about pulling weeds and planting crops. Gardening, it does a body and a mind good….
Happy Gardening,
Mary Church

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