Look outside — the begonias are blooming, sunflowers are sprouting and peas are peeking out from beneath the soil. Your efforts in the garden are about more than creating a beautiful landscape or bountiful harvest. All of the seeding, watering, weeding and harvesting also offers important health benefits.
Here are six reasons to train your green thumb:
1. GARDENING CAN BE GREAT EXERCISE
There is a reason you work up a sweat working in the garden. On average, gardening burns 250 calories per hour — similar to swimming laps. Trimming trees and shrubs requires about the same amount of exertion as walking at a moderate pace.
2. GARDENING GIVES YOUR DIET A BOOST
Research supports the notion that you’re bound to eat more fresh produce when all of the ingredients for a salad are growing right outside the back door. One study found that growing a vegetable garden increased consumption of nutrient-dense foods.
“You’ll want to eat more plant foods if you’ve invested your time and nurtured the food,” says Victoria Shanta Retelny, RDN, a Chicago-based dietitian and author of “Total Body Diet for Dummies.” “Planting a seed in nourishing soil, watering it and watching it grow brings a level of satisfaction and wellbeing beyond just going to the market and buying it. Plus, there’s an inherent desire to eat fewer processed foods as you develop a taste for more natural, home-grown foods.”
You don’t need much space to grow a bountiful harvest: Tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, strawberries and herbs grow well in pots (just be sure they get at least six hours of sun per day).
3. GARDENING REDUCES THE RISK OF COGNITIVE DECLINE
Growing flowers, fresh fruits and vegetables boosts brain volume, according to 2016 research that found physical activities like gardening cut the risk of Alzheimer’s disease by 50%.
“For those who like to garden, the hobby provides an enjoyable way to get regular physical activity — at least at certain times of the year — and may have other health benefits,” says Dean Hartley, PhD, director of science initiatives at the Alzheimer’s Association. “For example, the planning that goes into planting and maintaining a garden is mentally engaging. Consuming the fruits and vegetables you grow is a step toward eating a healthy diet. Doing something you love may also help to ward off depression.”
4. GARDENING PROVIDES A HEALTH BOOST
Studies show that gardening can cut heart attack and stroke risk and help maintain a healthy weight. The Centers for Disease Control calls gardening “moderate intensity physical activity,” which is linked to lower levels of diabetes, osteoporosis, stroke and colon cancer. Include gardening as part of the 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity you should be getting each week.
5. GARDENING BOOSTS YOUR MOOD
Go ahead and get some dirt under your fingernails. Research shows that Mycobacterium vaccae or M. vaccae, bacterium in the soil, activates the feel-good hormone serotonin. Researcher Christopher Lowry, PhD, found that exposure to the bacteria had antidepressant effects, improved coping responses to stress and reduced anxiety.
“Municipal water sources are a significant source of mycobacteria, so gardeners likely ‘seed’ the soil with high concentrations of mycobacteria while watering the garden,” explains Lowry, associate professor of integrative physiology at the University of Colorado, Boulder.
6. GARDENING IMPROVES SLEEP
You’re not likely to lie awake at night fretting about your tomato plants. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania found that those who engaged in regular exercise, including gardening, were more apt to have healthy sleep habits and better sleep quality.
Although beautiful flowers and fresh fruits and vegetables are great motivators for maintaining a garden, these added health benefits offer another reason to get growing!