Earth Day is a great day to thank our planet for all she does for gardeners. Spending time in our gardens is the best medicine to relieve stress and reclaim serenity from our daily grinds. I work long, fast-paced days at The Planter’s Palette, a garden center in the Chicago suburbs, and even though I get home late if I spend just thirty minutes tending to my own garden, I am much happier. Gardening is good for me and my husband!
In addition to the stress-relieving and mood-elevating benefits digging in the dirt provides, there are many more ways gardening keeps us happy and healthy.
Fresh Fruits & Vegetables
My family eats much healthier in spring, summer and fall. When fresh fruits and veggies are growing right outside sliding glass doors, we are much more likely to have salads for lunch, fresh veggies at dinner and just-picked fruit for breakfast and snacks. Who wants potato chips when there are juicy strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and sweet-as-candy peas bulging from their pods?
When we grow our own food, we can choose organic fertilizers and natural forms of pest and disease control if they are necessary. Because homegrown fruits and vegetables don’t travel from a field to a grocery store, they don’t lose any flavor or nutrients. Instead, they are enjoyed at their peak of freshness.
On the first warm days early in spring, I do hundreds of gardener toe touches as I pick up sticks blown from trees by winter winds. See stick, bend over, pick up stick, stand up, repeat, repeat, and repeat. Digging, planting, mulching, weeding, pruning and other garden tasks are great forms of low-impact exercise.
Hauling wheelbarrows full of mulch or soil and mowing the lawn with a push mower (that is not self-propelled) benefit cardiovascular fitness.
The best part of the exercise you get from gardening is it doesn’t feel like exercising. Out in the garden on a sunny day, gardening is pleasurable. The focus is on the flowers and foliage, not the exercise. Another plus: there is no membership fee.
Physical Health Benefits
All that fresh produce and exercise is good for our health. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, moderate-intensity activities like gardening for 2 ½ hours a week may reduce risks of obesity, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, heart attacks, stroke, and more.
Exposure to sunshine, in moderate amounts, has many health benefits. It may help to prevent some cancers like colon, ovarian, pancreatic and prostate. Vitamin D, created by skin exposed to sunlight, is also important to bone health.
Gardening is good for our minds, too. One study found gardening on a daily basis caused the largest risk reduction for dementia over other activities studied. Nature has also been linked to the prevention of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and higher test scores among students.
Mental Health Benefits
Gardening helps improve depression. One study suggests Mycobacterium vaccae, a bacteria in the soil, increases serotonin in the parts of the brain that control mood and cognitive function in the same way as antidepressant drugs do.
Humans are attracted to the therapeutic properties of the garden – the physical activity; connecting with other living things; scents of herbs, flowers and foliage; and the reward of reaping what we sowed.
Gardening forces us to slow down and connect to the rhythm of nature. We can’t make the flowers or vegetables grow any faster. We can’t control the weather. We garden alongside earth’s other occupants – earthworms, frogs and toads, butterflies, bees, and birds just to name a few.
I think the best thing we can do to celebrate Earth Day is get outside. While we tend the garden, the garden tends us, rewarding us with tasty, nutritious food; exercise; and improved physical and mental health. It sounds like a great partnership to me. If you want to feel better, garden with me!