Gardens inspire us, they provide spaces for family and friends to gather, and they ARE the proven curb appeal icing that raises our property values.
Beneath the surface of beautiful blooms and stunning structure, lies a hidden gem that can also become a vital component of a healthy and balanced lifestyle.
Studies continue to demonstrate that working and spending time in a garden can improve our well-being – both physically and mentally.
We all know that gardening is hard work. As we approach the New Year, there’s no need for an expensive new gym membership to go along with your list of resolutions. Making a commitment to a healthier you is as simple as walking outside your own back door. You can design your own workout routine, taking less time and avoiding the interminable Austin traffic. From basic movements to strenuous activities, gardening offers the right exercise, no matter what your needs.
According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control), “Gardening is an excellent way to get physical activity. Active people are less likely than inactive people to be obese or have high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, heart disease, stroke, depression, colon cancer, and premature death.”
The CDC recommends being active for at least 2 1/2 hours per week, and including cardio and muscle strengthening activities. Gardeners are also more likely to exercise about 40 minutes longer on average than those who walk or bike. We know what that means – we set out to tackle one gardening chore, only to get sucked into pulling just a few more weeds or deadheading just a few more flowers. Be sure to start out slowly if you aren’t used to that kind of activity and always check with your doctor to make sure it’s safe for you to undertake.
Gardening chores can provide any level of activity from serious cardio – hauling bags of mulch and soil, digging and shoveling to simple reaching and stretching will pruning or raking. Raking leaves for just 30 minutes can burn 225 calories – and this exercise provides weight training and tones all the major muscles groups in your body.
Before you head out to garden, do some stretches to warm up, just as you would if you were starting a workout at the gym. Core strengthening like Pilates or yoga stretches will loosen up your muscles before you tackle garden chores.
It’s important to remember to bend and lift properly when you’re gardening. Bend your knees and keep your back straight when lifting and keep your feet shoulder width apart and hold objects close to your body. And be particularly mindful not to twist as you garden while pulling hoses or reaching for things. This can lead to back problems if you aren’t careful in your movements.
Emotional well being
In a recent study by scientists at Essex and Westminster universities, as little as 30 minutes of gardening a week can improve self-esteem, reduce anger and ease depression. In the research, reported in the UK’s Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph in October, scientists found that gardeners were less likely to be overweight, were more energetic and were less anxious.
Based on their findings, researchers said, “We found that less than 30 minutes of gardening produces a measurable and beneficial health effect.”
Other studies have also shown that electronic devices demand our constant attention, creating ‘attention fatigue.’ Spending time in nature, whether gardening or just enjoying the outdoors, can help us recharge by using what’s referred to as ‘involuntary attention.’ Being in the garden or completing mindless and soothing garden chores help us fight stress and reduce ‘attention fatigue.’
Scientists in Colorado have also released preliminary findings that suggest that microbes in the soil may actually boost the release of serotonin in parts of the brain that control mood, similar to some anti-depressant drugs.
According to the American Horticultural Therapy Association, spending time in nature reduces stress, lowers blood pressure and relieves muscle tension. Gardening can also help people who are recovering from physical illness by strengthening muscles and improving balance and coordination.
My fellow friend and gardener, Jenny Peterson, a cancer survivor, recently wrote a book chronicling her journey back from illness, highlighting how her connection with gardening helped her through tough times. In The Cancer Survivor’s Garden Companion, she credits her garden with clearing the mental fog of “chemo brain’ and helping her overcome pain, depression and physical limitations.
Her premise is that gardening is good medicine. The book outlines garden solutions for strengthening bones and muscles, improving circulation and keeping your mind sharp. According to Peterson, healthy eating, herbal remedies, aromatherapy, yoga and surrounding herself with a tribe of loving supporters all contributed to her recovery.
She even includes tips on how to use gardening chores to fit your mood. For example, if you’re feeling angry, it may be time to dig holes or hoe in the garden. If you’re feeling the need for hope and inspiration, sowing seeds and planting transplants can help boost your mood.
“…plants are proven blues busters,” writes Peterson. “…they are timely reminders of how life continues despite what we are going through.”
“If you’re feeling thankful, think about harvesting things from your garden, like vegetables or cut flowers.”
The book includes Survivor Spotlights, which highlight information about and tips from other cancer survivors. It also lists many resources for cancer patients and gardeners. While the book’s focus is on her own cancer experience, its broad message about the hope and healing to be found in nature is universal.
Peterson writes about the importance of drawing strength from nature, and using her garden to remain grounded as she went through treatment.
“We feel off balance when we are sick or even when we are stuck working inside at a computer all day. Going outside and literally walking barefoot reminds us to slow down and get reconnected at an elementary level. It allows us to draw strength from the world around us when we need it most,” said Peterson.
Whether facing a debilitating disease or simply struggling to find health and balance in your life, there are many hopeful lessons to be learned in the garden.
Local Landscape Designer and Garden Coach, Diana Kirby, provides landscaping tips on Facebook at Diana’s Designs, at www.dianasdesignsaustin.com and writes a garden blog at www.dianasdesignsaustin.com.