Gardening offers a refuge from the stresses of modern living, be it tending a backyard orchard, plants in a window box, or a collection of potted herbs in the kitchen. Many of us have sedentary work indoors, and the stress of just getting to work and coping with deadlines can numb both our bodies and spirits.
Gardening contributes to wellness in many ways: psychologically, it takes us out of ourselves and brings us closer to nature; caring for plants and watching them grow reminds us to also care for ourselves. And plants reward us with their beauty, as well as fruits, vegetables, nutritional leaves and flowers to eat, if we are so inclined. The National Gardening Association has lots of resources on getting a garden started, including a handy food gardening guide.
Active gardening can provide all three types of exercise: endurance, flexibility, and strength. Heavy gardening, such as turning a compost pile or digging holes, burns as many calories per hour as a low-impact aerobics class (about 450 calories/hour), with the benefit of giving your arms and upper body a workout along with your legs. Regular gardening, such as weeding, pruning, and planting, burns about 250 calories/hour, and raking leaves around 350 calories/hour. Remember to stretch before active gardening. Avoid backache and knee strain by bending from the knees rather than the waist while raking, hoeing, and weeding, and always use your legs and not your back for lifting and carrying sacks of soil, compost, or large pots or plants.
Your time outdoors in the sun also ensures that your skin makes plenty of Vitamin D3, which many researchers say Americans need more of, particularly those over age 50. Among the many benefits of Vitamin D is mood elevation, which reinforces the positive psychological effects of gardening.
Don’t have a yard? Gardening in an apartment can give great pleasure too. Most plants and vegetables can be grown indoors with the right equipment. Window boxes can grow flowers or veggies, and can be rewarding gardens—or even a park—in miniature. One urban apartment dweller recounts how her box attracted a nesting pair of morning doves, who returned year after year. When she began leaving birdseed in the box for them, she started having visits from a squirrel! Whether your efforts attract wildlife or not, gardening is a healthy pleasure.
- Rebecca Taggart