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Gardening is Good for Your Health

by Carol Siddall, Master Gardener

Those with green thumbs have long known that gardening is good for you both physically and mentally. And now it has been proven scientifically. Researchers have found that smelling the roses and pulling up those nasty weeds can lower blood pressure, increase brain activity, and produce a general good feeling. Just looking at a garden can give you a positive boost. I know it does me. This evidence has become so compelling that the health factor has been given its own name - HORTICULTURAL THERAPY. More about this later.

Most of us learned gardening from a parent or grandparent. I, as most children, didn't like it. I didn't want to water or pull weeds. But, the older I became, the more I wanted to learn, from planting a seed, watching it grow, and harvesting the vegetable and or picking the flower. We always had a large garden, so I learned to freeze, can, and share our bounty. Nothing taste better then fresh veggies out of the garden, and a bouquet of fresh flowers on your table. We were experiencing Horticultural Therapy before there was horticultural therapy!

Doing research for this article I found many different topics of why gardening is good for us and can prolong our lives. (One blog I read stated there is evidence that gardeners can live up to 14 years longer than non-gardeners.) The following list is some of the facts that I know to be true plus some new information worth sharing.

· Most of us do not get enough Vitamin D. You garden during the day, so you are naturally getting Vitamin D. Vitamin D is protective against some types of cancer and heart disease.

· Playing in the dirt: soil is a rich source of natural bacteria, minerals, and microorganisms. Touching the soil on a regular basis exposes the body to beneficial microorganisms that can boost the immune system. Larry Dossey, M.D. stated that children who are exposed to dirt in the formative years develop healthier, stronger immune systems when compared to children whose parents keep them from digging in the dirt.

· Gardening is a stress reliever. Stress negatively affects us and can increases the risk of disease. Spending just 20 minutes out in my garden can bring my blood pressure down. I will sometimes just sit in a chair and do what I call "vegetate". You see your flowers in bloom, hear the birds chirping or singing, and see butterflies going from flower to flower. What better way to spend 20 minutes?

· Gardening is exercise. Lifting plants and soil, raking, digging, pulling weeds - it all requires low-level activity and weight lifting. These activities provide the positive benefits of exercise in a relaxing way.

· Gardening burns those calories. You can burn up to 330 calories during one hour of light gardening and yard work. The National Institute of Health recommends 30 to 45 minutes of gardening three to five times a week as part of a good exercise strategy.

· Gardening decreases the likelihood of osteoporosis. Digging, planting, weeding, and engaging in repetitive tasks that require strength or stretching, helps major muscle groups get a good work out.

· Being surrounded by flowers improves one's health. Jeanette Haviland-Jones, PhD says that a behavioral research done at Rutgers University, showed that flowers are a natural and healthful moderator of moods and have an immediate impact on happiness.

· Gardening may lower the risk of dementia. Some research suggests that it is the physical activity associated with gardening that can help lower the risk of developing dementia by 36 to 47% over non-gardeners.

· Horticultural therapy has become recognized treatment for stress and depression. This has served as a healing aid in settings ranging from prisons and mental health treatment facilities to schools and hospitals. Tailored gardening programs have been shown to increase quality of life for people with anxiety as well as with depression. It seemed to give their lives meaning. In jails and corrective programs, horticultural therapy programs have been used to give inmates positive, purposeful activities that lessen aggression and hostility during and after incarceration.

· School Gardening - studies show that students who have worked on designing, creating, and maintaining gardens develop more positive attitudes about health, nutrition, and the consumption of vegetables. These children also score better in science, have better attitudes about school, and improve their classroom behavior. The Master Gardeners have had garden projects in several schools. The children seem to love gardening, especially when they can reap the fruits of their labors!

· Gardening with our older people in nursing homes and related facilities has shown a powerful health-promoting activity. Even if they cannot dig in the dirt or pull weeds, they may can hold a water hose, and be company for someone that is digging or pulling weeds. Just seeing a seed come to life is a pleasant experience for anyone, especially if you used to be a gardener.

These are just a few of the reasons why we should garden to help us live longer. Most of us, along with our children and grandchildren, spend too much time indoors in front of a television or playing video games. Maybe this next year we can all plan to spend more time in our present garden, or maybe a new garden we want to try. Who knows what the outcome will be, but I am betting on a great time getting to that outcome!.


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